Ten Minutes of Snow-Capped Solitude
Leaders need friends, as I wrote before heading off to ACT II, the convening of the Aspen Institute's Global Leadership Network. But this gathering was more than just a glorified college reunion for reconnecting with old friends. It was also a rare opportunity to get reacquainted with big ideas that are easy to miss during the rush of everyday life.
For me, none was more timely than our discussion of Seneca's essay, "On the Shortness of Life". The Roman philosopher wrote about how certain people "keep themselves very busily engaged in order that they may be able to live better; they spend life in making ready to live!" It reminded me of one my favorite Honest Tea bottle-cap messages, from John Lennon: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
I also enjoyed reconnecting with other Aspen fellows I've gotten to know through the Henry Crown Fellowship Program. One of my favorites is Li Lu, a former student leader of China's 1989 democracy protests. After the Chinese government's crackdown, Li was one of 21 on China's Most Wanted list. He managed to escape to the US, earned law and business degrees from Columbia University and went into the investment business.
He's most proud of his investment in BYD, a Chinese battery, cell phone and electric car company with 135,00 employees. As BYD has expanded, it has become a leader in the sustainable energy field. Helping China develop in a more sustainable manner seems like an appropriate evolution for a student activist, especially given the bleak prospects for democratic transition in China.
A British Henry Crown Fellow living in Beijing poked fun at how well the US manages to brand many, but not all, of the things it creates. He noted that the world hears a lot about the "American ingenuity" that produced jazz music and the iPod. He wryly noted that the current meltdown has been labeled the "global economic crisis," even though it wasn't banks in Nigeria that were offering over-leveraged mortgages.
I participated in a panel on how businesses can inject values into the souls of their companies. I think the conference planners envisioned a discussion about sustainability and social responsibility, but the discussion veered in an unexpected direction when participants from Central America, the Middle East and Africa shared their challenges of running traditional businesses without caving in to the norms of bribery and corruption among private and public officials. Whether here or overseas, the soul of a company starts with leadership -- the example management sets and how well it ingrains the same values in the team.
As always, it was inspiring to learn about the progress Fellows around the world have made with their personal projects. Each Fellow is required to develop a community leadership project from scratch. My initiative evolved into Bethesda Green, the local sustainability program in Honest Tea's hometown. Other Fellows are engaged globally. My Henry Crown classmate Dr. Jordan Kassalow built VisionSpring, a non-profit focused on expanding economic opportunity in the developing world through the sale of affordable eyeglasses.
My personal highlight came on an early morning hike through the Aspen mountains before a day of meetings and travel. During a break in the trek, I found myself with ten minutes of solitude, in a meadow near a stream in the shadow of snow-capped peaks. For the first six minutes my mind buzzed with all the conversations from ACT II, the challenges facing Honest Tea and the hazards of raising three teenage boys, but for the last four minutes I became fully aware of the natural world around me, providing me with the clearest insights of the weekend. I think Seneca would be pleased.
June 25, 2009; 11:12 AM ET
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