Chicago Ideas Week: The Presidents Club Playbook

Chicago Ideas Week is a series featuring over 200 passionate speakers that host talks and labs throughout Chicago. Now celebrating its second year, CIW events will foster innovation, inspiration, and connection in all corners of the city through October 14.  I’m thrilled to be covering Chicago Ideas Week as a live correspondent and hope you’ll enjoy following along via Twitter and the Ideasphere blog.

View the Talk Transcript from Democracy: State of Our Union

“There is no conversation so sweet as that between former political enemies,” Herbert Hoover said of his unlikely collaboration with former political enemy Harry Truman. In the months following the end of WWII, Truman enlisted Hoover to help address the famine crisis gripping Europe. The partnership paid off, raising the needed humanitarian relief and saving countless lives. In 1953, at the inauguration of Dwight Eisenhower, the pair formalized their common bond to create the world’s most exclusive fraternity – “The President’s Club.”

The incredible affiliation between current and former Presidents is the subject of The Presidents Club, which was published in April 2012. Authors Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs were on hand to discuss the interactions and implications of the Presidents Club last night at Democracy: State of Our Union.

The discussion was particularly fitting to kick off the opening night of Chicago Ideas Week. As you encounter ideas in CIW talks and labs this week, keep a few takeaways from the Presidents Club playbook in mind.

Reach Across the Aisle (or Picket Line)
From Eisenhower’s eventual support of “that young whippersnapper” Kennedy to the father-son relationship between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, seemingly improbable relationships transcend party lines in the Presidents Club. “Presidents often have the best relationships with those who are not in their party,” observed Gibbs. It goes without saying that Chicago Ideas Week speakers and attendees have a curiosity for fresh perspectives, so seek out opportunities to engage ideologies that seem opposing to yours.

Readjust Your Focus
What would you ask a President? When President Obama met with the Presidents Club shortly after his election, he reportedly spent much of the time asking their opinions on the seemingly mundane issues such as raising kids in Washington. It’s not hard to get people excited about large-scale, dynamic innovations, but examining their impact on everyday lives makes for a compelling dialogue.

Know the Job is Never Really Done
The business of being President is a lifelong office. As the longest living President, Jimmy Carter has assisted every successive administration in, “whatever he was asked to do and many things he wasn’t asked to do,” according to Duffy. Even if you’re “off the clock” at Chicago Ideas Week find ways to leverage your expertise in new environments.

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