Beyond dreary politics: Denting the future in Sun Valley

While U.S. politicians dither, American entrepreneurs and innovators forge ahead

For the last couple of days, I've been in Sun Valley, Idaho, at Dent the Future 2015, a conference devoted to exploring "the magic and science of visionary leadership and groundbreaking success." What that exploration involves is shared presentations and conversations with about 200 really smart, creative people who are engaged in a wide range of endeavors that put to shame the feeble contributions of America's politicians.

The dismal dysfuntion of American politics can become a drag on the spirit of anyone who cares as much about this country, as I do. Because of my job, I spend too many long hours observing the current debasement of our democracy, so, when I get a chance to be inspired by something more hopeful, I take it.

The folks at this conference are an eclectic crew of generally brilliant human beings. They include successful entrepreneurs, artists, software designers, startup consultants, high-powered bloggers, educators, photographers, journalists, economists, techie ski bums and people who fall into several of those categories.

I was honored to be interviewed in front of the gathering, sharing my ideas about creativity and inspiration. I got an additional chance to lead an impromptu group discussion about ways to rise above the sterotypes of race and gender that fracture and undermine our society. For the simple fun of it, I also put together a caption contest in which the participants came up with new words for an old cartoon I drew back in 1997. It was an exercise in reinvention that was won by Jon Duval, executive director of the Ketchum Community Development Corporation. As evidenced by the cartoon that appears with this column, Duval's line brings an old image hilariously up to date.

Dent conference speakers were diverse and inspirational. The co-founder of Worldreader, David Risher, described how he is getting e-readers and digital books into the hands of children in developing countries where libraries and books are rare or non-existent. Sarah Milstein, CEO of Lean Startup Productions, talked about bypassing ingrained biases to find talented workers and leaders among women and racial minorities. Binta Brown and Christina Wallace just plain wowed everyone with the long list of things they have achieved in their young lives by rejecting the pressures exerted in both academia and the business world to keep pursuits narrow and overly specialized.

While there was plenty of discussion about innovation, smart management and quality design -- the elements that can keep American businesses on the cutting edge of the global economy -- there was also contemplation of techniques to keep productive, creative lives sane, centered and rich in the things that money cannot buy.

I came away from the gathering convinced that American inventiveness and social enlightenment can go hand in hand. From Silicon Valley to Lawrence, Kansas, people are using their brains, hearts and energy to do amazingly creative and compassionate things. Ignorance, folly and stale ideas may plaugue our politics, but this old republic could yet be saved by a creative class of entrepreneurs, artists and philanthropists who are happily engaged in envisioning and building our collective future.

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