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Five big ideas from the Aspen Ideas Festival


The musician Common, founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg and ExxonMobil vice president of research and development Vijay Swarup don’t often run in the same circles.

But for three days, they were among the 3,000 attendees of the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado. Joining creative thinkers from across politics, journalism, business and the arts, they discussed and debated everything from climate change to the art of storytelling and economic progress, inspiring and motivating one another along the way.

Needless to say, there was no shortage of big ideas over the course of the festival, but below are our five top takeaways from this year’s sessions.

1. Unexpected partnerships foster breakthroughs.

Energy experts from Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (SGI), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Princeton University gathered with Swarup to discuss their roles in the “technology value chain,” the steps and partnerships helping to bring new solutions from idea to reality. They agreed that developing lower-emission energy requires academic creativity, industry realism and a strong working relationship.

“It’s by bringing people together that we’re making an impact,” said Dr. Lynn Loo, director, Princeton University Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. “ExxonMobil is one of those groups bringing people together.”

2. Enable innovation and opportunity follows.

When working to find solutions to complex problems, there are no quick fixes. For example, when many companies wouldn’t invest in mobile communications in Africa, one entrepreneur took on the challenge to build the infrastructure from scratch.

Innovators ready to develop big ideas and creatively solve the world’s toughest challenges are the key to sparking new opportunities across entire communities.

3. The best learnings come from failures.

From X (formerly Google X), we learned that despite the real possibility of failure, moonshot projects, those ambitious ideas that have the potential to transform generations, are worth the risk. Failure should, in fact, be celebrated, because the learnings from mistakes provide a pathway to game-changing innovations.

4. Carbon capture is all the buzz.

This superpower technology is gaining recognition as a tool to help reduce CO2emissions. And, when scaled up, it could help meet the world’s climate goals.

The technologies being developed today in laboratories around the country can be applied to numerous applications in the work to reduce climate change, panelists told audience members during the conference.

“You want a scalable energy solution with a reduced footprint,” added Swarup. “Carbon capture gives you that.”

5. Find inspiration off the industry path.

When a CEO meets an artist over breakfast, a new collaboration not yet considered can spark a movement. That’s the magic of Aspen Ideas, where seasoned journalists go on bird-watching expeditions with business leaders and scientists can join a jam session with chart-topping musicians. These shake-ups can generate ideas capable of transforming our world.

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