Former President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker at the Learning 2011 Conference I attended last week on behalf of my client. Our host and presenter Elliott Maisie asked our former president to tie his speech to the topic of learning as a continued conversation about the future of learning. Mr. Clinton was scheduled to speak for thirty minutes and be interviewed by our host for thirty minutes. He took the topic to heart and masterfully wove the culture around learning into every aspect of his presentation.


Mr. Clinton was ushered in by the lively playing of Eric Stanley on the violin. (More about Eric's amazing talent in a future post.) He had two pages of L11Clinton024-Mnotes, there was no teleprompter for this live audience of just over 2000 people. And he did put his reading glasses on but then proceeded to speak to us from the heart for sixty minutes without using his notes at all!

I’m not a public speaker and could never imagine what it takes to connect with so many people so intimately. He knew his stuff. And regardless of a person’s political views or personal opinions of Bill Clinton I think he reached many hearts and minds that evening. I was awed and impressed by his passion for his country, his commitment to making a difference in the world, and for his message of possibility and call to action. Thank you Mr. Clinton for leading the way as a philanthropist and humanist and keeping our dreams for the future alive.

Here are the highlights as I recall them; my note taking was scribbled longhand so I’m not quoting directly:

The How’s:

How do we  invite people to “…drop their barriers to hearing new things in new ways.”

What’s the roll of education and learning in creating new systems? Ditto the roll of technology and how will we disseminate it.

How to lift people up (third world countries) without tearing yourself down.

How to share the future.

His call to action:

Lifetime learning—be a lifelong learner

We have to reform our systems and there’s a vital educational component to that

Re-form education how much we can teach through technology

Copy models that work, re-forming the way we learn

Why don’t good ideas or models travel in developed societies?

A glimpse of his initiatives at The Clinton Foundation:

Renewable energy and climate change

Childhood obesity

Mr. Clinton is an avid reader and says he learns best by reading, here are a few titles he recommended:

His new book of course, Back to Work (yes I bought a copy!)

Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort 

Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt (a novel recommended by his daughter Chelsea)


Utter once a day: I was wrong or I don’t know.

Develop a decision making process that’s rooted in tomorrow.

Everybody has a story—he grew up in a family of storytellers where you had to demonstrate you could listen to a story before you were allowed to tell one.

Most people are happiest doing what they are best at.