The Atlantic magazine teamed with the Aspen Institute and the Newseum to stage the second annual Washington Ideas Festival last Thursday and Friday. It featured a series of over a dozen one-on-one interviews with leading figures in politics, business, economics, and other fields, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, filmmaker Spike Lee, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Comcast was pleased to be an underwriter for this fascinating event. Video of the interviews is now available online at

Away from the cameras, the organizers also hosted summits on several issues, including one on innovation in which I participated. Our diverse group of about 20 entrepreneurs, academics, think-tankers, writers and others were asked to identify the most promising areas for innovation, the key barriers to America's ability to maintain its innovative edge, and proposals for "what government can do" to help.

There was no clear consensus on which fields are most ripe for innovation, but there was greater agreement on the conditions America must create - or preserve - to retain its innovative culture, in areas from research and development to tax and immigration policies. The role of education was a persistent theme - how we're doing (not well on K-12, and not as well as we used to do at the university level in relative terms) and how to change it (not only improving how we teach science, engineering and math, but educating "the whole person" - right and left brain - because American creativity, and the freedom to create, is our competitive advantage). Several speakers also focused on the need to teach entrepreneurial skills as well as the ability to collaborate and work in teams. There was also a strong sense that the way we deliver education must and should change, including greater use of the Internet as a delivery vehicle.

A series of other interesting ideas emerged, and they are nicely summarized here.