What is a Think Tank?
I've always wondered about Think Tanks. Are these places where they cloister a bunch of braniacs in a dark room, feed them snickers and Mountain Dew, and deprive them of sleep until they come up with some brilliant insight?
A Think Tank is a organization or group focused on the resolution of a particular problem or task. Usually in the realms of science, society, or technology. A Think Tank's goal is to consider issues and challenges whose relevance reaches beyond that of the individual or immediate. Long term thinking, and in-depth consideration by subject matter experts.
It doesn't have to be a bunch of braniacs. It doesn't have to cost a lot. It could be a small group of individuals who think hard and long on a particular issue. If the individuals are creative, intelligent, and determined, they can come up with novel solutions to difficult questions. The important thing is the intensity of the process. Listen, analyze, and question. Identify underlying assumptions, challenge the validity of the question. The individual members of a think tank must learn to go beyond the 'how', define the 'why'. Not only should they ask 'what', but 'what if' as well. A Think Tank must reject the quick and easy solution. It should seek out the long-term benefits, the visionary approach, and the penultimate solution.
Additional notes on the origin of 'Think Tank' provided by Charles Hodgson: Author of the 'Podictionary' podcast.
The phrase 'Think Tank' first appeared about a hundred years ago and was used at first to mean just someone's brain. It was only in the '50s that it started to mean a group of supposed experts brought together to consider some question of policy or economics or whatever. The first citation was in the Times Literary Supplement of November 6 1959. (References)
Why can't I start my own Think Tank?
I've often pondered this question. One day I decided to do something about it. So I did a little research. As you may have suspected, there are o rules governing the foundation of a Think Tank. There are no articles of incorporation, no charter, no licensing process. Provided of course, that you're not doing it for money. Since that's not my intention, I figured, 'What the heck', 'Why not!'. On that day the Vaessen Institute for Strategic Insight was created.
Who's in the Think Tank?
As you would imagine, I am. Being the founder kind of mandates that I be part of the Think Tank. If you'd like to know a little about me, you can visit my bio page. The other members? Well, right now there's only two other members: Dave Dornan and Terry Sadler. Maybe in the future I'll convince more of my friends to join. It doesn't cost anything. And it's relatively painless. Wouldn't it be cool if you could say 'Yes, I'm part of a Think Tank'. Throw that out at a party or two, maybe you'll get a laugh out of it.
What kind of qualifications do you have?
Well, nothing special really. I'm not even a college graduate. Of course that never stopped anyone from using their brain. I sort of said you had to be a 'subject matter expert' though. Well, let's see... I consider myself a 'Subject Matter Expert' (SME) on some subjects. Let's start with web page design and layout. Hey I run my own web site. I guess that makes me a SME. I'm probably an SME on other subjects as well. I just haven't thought about it much. If you'd like to know a little more about me feel free to visit my bio page.
Have you solved any problems?
Not yet. The Think Tank is brand new after all. I haven't even got any algae growing on the glass yet. I'm eagerly awaiting input from you. Have you got any problems? Let's start small. Can't seem to get that pickle jar open? Lost your keys? Cat up a tree? Of course I can't guarantee that I'll have the answer to every question. That's just not logical. I'll give it my best though. Ask away!
I've got a problem, what do your services cost?
Luckily for you, I'm willing to consider your dilemma for free. I charge absolutely nothing. Are you the minister of elections in a emerging Democratic Nation? Can't decide how best to educate your teeming electorate masses, while still maintaining an unbiased hand in regards to government intervention in the voting process? Perhaps I can help solve your problem. Maybe you just need a six letter word for sick. In either case, I charge absolutely nothing. That ought to be incentive enough to give the Vaessen Institute for Strategic Insight a try. I offer no guarantees, and make no assurances that my 'insight' will produce the best answer possible.
Is this for real?
Well... Not really, but sort of. I still think it's a cool idea. Why can't your normal joe (Or Rob!) be part of a Think Tank? I will answer your email if you send any. If you've got a serious problem though, I'd suggest you consult a professional (i.e. someone other than me).
If you have more questions about the Think Tank, or would like to submit your questions, please feel free to contact me at the address listed below.
AEI World Forum
Attendance at the 2002 World Forum
Believe it or not, from 19 - 24 June of 2002; I attended the 2002 AEI World Forum.
The Forum, held in Beaver Creek
Colorado, is an annual event (Yes it's legit! I'm not making this part up)
hosted by former president Gerald Ford. It's sponsored by the American
Enterprises Institute and the Vail
Valley Foundation. I volunteered as a driver and security forces augmentee.
I had loads of fun. By the way, I went as a private citizen, not as a member
of the Armed Forces. My lawyer forced me to say that. AEI/VVF put us up in Condos
in Avon, and we drove Lincoln Town Cars. It was a lot of long hours, but I had
a great time. The hilite of the week came while I was escorting some people to
a dinner party. On the way there, two of the forum participants (not us volunteers),
were discussing ways to solve the Middle East crisis. They were coming up with
some seriously good ideas. Now that was cool! I had a good time, and it was a
welcome break from my normally stressful job. I will definitely volunteer again
next year. Here's a personally signed letter of thanks
from former President Gerald R. Ford.
Attendance at the 2003 World Forum
From 19 - 23 June; I attended the 2003 AEI World Forum.
The Forum, held in Beaver
Creek Colorado, is an annual event, hosted by former president Gerald
Ford. It's sponsored by the American
Enterprises Institute and the Vail Valley Foundation. I volunteered as
a driver and security forces augmentee. I had loads of fun. By the way, I went
as a private citizen, not as a member of the Armed Forces. Volunteers receive
$75.00 for perdiem, but we're not. AEI/VVF put us up in some really nice Condos in
Avon, and we drove Lincoln Town Cars and Ford Excursions. It was a lot of long
hours, but I had a great
time. This year's hilite was the drive back into Denver. I drove two participants
back to DIA, and ended up getting two tips. One was a book to read: "Gate's
of Fire" by Steve Pressman, and the other was a $20.00 tip! Some of this years
- Gerald R. Ford (Former President of the United States
- Václav Klaus (The President of the Czech Replublic)
B. Cheney (Vice President of the U.S.)
- Jeff Bingham (U.S. Senator
- Alan Greenspan (Chairman of the Federal Reserve)
- Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department
- Ehud Olmert (Vice Prime Minister of Israel; Minister of
- Michael Novak (George Frederick Jewett Scholar
in Religion, Philosophy,
and Public Policy.
This is not a complete list, but as
you can see
from this small listing, some
very influential, powerful, and intelligent people
attend this annual event. If I'm lucky something will rub off on me. :-)
Here's another personally signed letter of thanks
from former President Gerald R. Ford.
Attendance at the 2004 World Forum
From 17 - 20 June; I volunteered at the 2004 AEI World Forum. The World Forum is held every year in Beaver Creek, Colorado. At former president Gerald R. Ford's personal invitation, the forum is attended by prominent business leaders, public officials, and scholars. Participants discuss the most critical economic, social, and security issues facing the United States and the world community.
Volunteers are solicited from military bases in Denver and Colorado Springs. Volunteers spend their days acting as security augmentees for the forum's events and drivers for the participants. In addition to the typical volunteer duties, this year I was priveleged to serve as a driver in the Vice President's motorcade. I received instructions from Secret Service and White House Advance team members and drove a support vehicle in the Vice Presidential motorcade. Quite a thrill! I received a couple of mementos for my service, and there will be more to come later. I received a letter of thanks, a Dick Cheney pen, and a photo with the vice president.
This year Kim came along with me, and I even managed to take a few photos. As usual, we stayed in condominiums provided by the Vail Valley Foundation, and I received a $75.00 stipend to help pay for meals. If I'm still working in the Aurora/Denver area next year, I'll try to attend the forum for a fourth year.
Attendance at the 2005 World Forum
From 23 - 26 June; I volunteered at the 2005 AEI World Forum. The World Forum is held every year in Beaver Creek, Colorado. At former president Gerald R. Ford's personal invitation, the forum is attended by prominent business leaders, public officials, and scholars. Participants discuss the most critical economic, social, and security issues facing the United States and the world community.
Volunteers are solicited from military bases in Denver and Colorado Springs. Volunteers spend their days acting as security augmentees for the forum's events and drivers for the participants. I didn't get to drive in the Vice President's motorcade this year, but I still had a pretty good time. The downside was the rooms. The conditions of the rooms were horrible this year. If we're asked to stay in the 'Lodge at Avon' next year, I won't be a volunteer. It was worse than any motel I've ever stayed in!
Kim wasn't able to come along this year, but I did manage to take some photos. This years hilite (in my opinion) was a logistical coup, pulled off primarily by one of the drivers. This year we were all able to keep our own vehicles on the night of the 'Dine Around' - A dinner party event on the last night of the World Forum. Why is this so important? On the last night of the World Forum, we often have our vehicles packed with our belongings in anticipation of an early departure the next morning. In the past, there was no guarantee that you would keep your vehicle for the 'Dine Around'. Drivers were often separated from their vehicles on the night of the dine around, and they had a very short amount of time left the next morning in order recover their belongings before returning participants to Denver.
As usual, our accommodations were provided by the Vail Valley Foundation. Unfortunately, not everyone got to stay at the Beaver Creek West condominiums this year. Most of us (myself included) had to spend our down time in a flea-bitten rat trap known as 'The Lodge at Avon' (Don't be fooled by the room pictured on their web site - The rooms don't look like that). In addition to accommodations and free meals, we also received a $75.00 stipend to help defray other costs.
I had a good time, and if I'm still working in the Aurora/Denver area next year, I'll try to attend the forum for a fifth year (Provided I don't have to stay in 'The Lodge'). On the 14th of July, 2005, I received a card from the VVF. They take the time to send a thank you card to each of the drivers. It's a nice touch, and I appreciate it.