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5 Lessons Learned at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival

Recapping a week on the Aspen Institute's mountain-framed campus.

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Take some of the planet’s foremost intellects, technologists, artists, business titans and global policy influencers and station them on a single campus, and you’ll get the Aspen Ideas Festival. The 11th annual event opened to a packed house on Sunday, June 28, and didn’t slow down for a solid six days, with high profile names like Katie Couric and Andrew Freedman, Colorado’s director of marijuana coordination (a.k.a. “Marijuana Czar”). Hot topics tackled at the 2015 edition included the American Dream, climate change, racial tension, technology’s impact on legacy industries, and much more. The collective sentiment amidst the roughly 3,000 attendees swung between optimism and apocalypse-now skepticism, and audience members balanced on the edges of their seats awaiting controversial comments to leak.

Here, five of the most illuminating, instructive, and inspiring ideas shared at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival (according to moi):

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“As we are struggling to figure out this water shortage, often times the river will continue to lose.”

How threatening is the current drought, and what can be done to mitigate the associated risks? These questions were the focus of deep-dive conversations on one of the world’s most precious natural resources. During one panel, it was suggested that Colorado is frequently last in line for its own water. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency and culpability when it comes to ownership and use of water throughout the west leaves stakeholders and decision-makers often stuck in the idea formation phase, and without actionable plans.

Don’t think of marijuana as a money-maker or the solution to our education woes.??

As other states watch and wait for the shakeout of Colorado’s legal marijuana experiment, “The rollout is going successfully,” said Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for the state of Colorado. But despite high hopes and big promises, the $68 million in marijuana tax revenue collected during the past 18 months since legalization is less economically impactful after enforcement, prevention, and treatment.

“Politics and culture are inseparable.”

Gary Wills, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, journalist, and historian, shared this interpretation of the lawmaking and deciphering processes in “Deep Dive: Monumental Decisions, The Supreme Court 2014–2015.” The panel discussion included reporters from The New York Times and The Atlantic, legal minds and legislators, all unpacking a year’s worth of cases tackling marriage equality, campaign spending, religious liberties, political discourse, and more.

Now is the “Golden Age of TV”

With titles such as Apollo 13, Arrested Development, and A Beautiful Mind, famed film and television producer Brian Grazer seems to have nailed down how to make a blockbuster hit. The spikey-haired filmmaker covered his new book, A Curious Mind, at the Aspen festival, describing his biweekly custom of tracking down, meeting, and conversing with distinguished men and women, from Fidel Castro to Princess Diana and astronaut Jim Lovell, which resulted in the making of Apollo 13. Grazer did admit that with the constant churn of remakes, sequels, and big blockbusters, Hollywood seems to have lost some of its bravery in favor of cash flow. However, in his assessment of the future of the entertainment business, Grazer insists that storytelling has improved in video form and the mediocrity is bound to dwindle.

“Regulation and innovation go together.”

Fearful that the Web is filled with behemoth monopolies—Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and the like—entrepreneur, author, and controversial commentator Andrew Keen detailed his latest book “The Internet is Not the Answer.” Amidst countless champions of the digital revolution, Keen asserts the Web has been harmful to the economy, social life, and more, recommending government oversight to move forward.

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