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Obama, Web Entrepreneur

Interesting article in the WSJ, about that scrappy entrepreneur, Barack Obama:

If Barack Obama ran for president by calling for a heavier hand of government, he also won by running one of the most entrepreneurial campaigns in history.

Will he now grasp the lesson his campaign offers as he crafts policies aimed at reigniting the national economy? Amid a recession, two wars, and a global financial crisis, will he come to see that unleashing the entrepreneur is the best way to raise the revenue he needs for his lofty priorities?

Like every entrepreneur, Mr. Obama’s rise was improbable. An unusually-named, African-American first-term senator defeated two of the most powerful incumbent political brands, the Clintons and John McCain. Like many upstarts, he won by changing the rules of the game.

Mr. Obama, following FDR’s mastery of radio and JFK’s success on TV, is the first candidate to fully exploit the Web. The community organizer seemed to realize that new social networking and video technologies were perfect for politics. It didn’t hurt that Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes worked for the campaign. “What ultimately transformed the presidential race,” Joshua Green of The Atlantic wrote in June, “was not the money that poured in from Silicon Valley but the technology and the ethos.”

The results of Mr. Obama’s decentralized Web effort were staggering: 8,000 Web-based affinity groups, 50,000 local events, 1.5 million Web volunteers, and 3.1 million donors who contributed almost $700 million. Republicans, Charlie Cook reported on Nov. 3, believe their large but impersonal centralized databases could not match the tacit knowledge, individual initiative and agility of Mr. Obama’s diffuse social networks.

Such creativity could bubble up because Mr. Obama was stable at the top. Not just anyone could recruit an army of volunteers and let them run free, establishing their own networks, offices and events. Because Mr. McCain lurched from one message and tactic to the next with dramatic frequency, his supporters froze. They spent more time defending or deciphering his shifting policies and tactics than they did organizing and persuading. Mr. Obama’s even temper and relentlessly consistent message, on the other hand, encouraged supporters to take risks without the worry of being blindsided.[more…]

The article goes on to argue for laissez-faire economic policies and deregulation, much of which I don’t agree with. Experience at LibriVox tells me that what leads to success is a clear objective, backed up with carefully designed regulation that clarifies what people can/can’t do, and *then* the widest amount of freedom possible, within set constraints. Obviously LibriVox ain’t the United States, but unleashing individual creativity is still about balancing openness with clear boundaries, and that’s the challenge Obama has, writ not just large, but world-wide.

One Comment

  1. Bob MacDonald Bob MacDonald 2008-11-09

    All of us – regardless of politics – who have ever attempted to buck an entrenched bureaucratic system should take heart in the election of Barack Obama. Despite the odds heavily stacked against him, Barack Obama beat the system and has become President-Elect. Forget race, the odds against a young, little known, under-funded, first-term Senator being able to garner the Presidential nomination of a Democratic party populated with leaders ready to coronate another candidate were so great that few gave such a dream any hope of success. Then to follow that by breaking through the barriers of race to win the Presidency with more votes than any person in the history of the country shows that with vision, plans, conviction and effective leadership, the system can be beaten.

    No matter what our politics or who we voted for, all of us should take pride in America today. We should feel gratified that America has validated the promise of “opportunity for all.” Now, without having to cross our fingers, we can tell any child in America that they can become whatever they want to be. The message we have sent to our friends and enemies around the world is even more compelling. The symbolism of the Obama victory offers America the prospect of reconnecting with the soul, spirit and dreams of people across the world who once again can look to America as a partner in their dream for equality, promise and opportunity. God bless America!

    Well, all that was the easy part. Now there comes the hard work – the fulfillment of opportunity. Barack Obama beat the system, but the real question is can he change the system?

    When it comes to challenges facing this country – war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat of worldwide terrorism, a financial system in tatters and a deepening recession – Obama enters office on a par with Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. The question is will he be able to perform on a par with these two Presidents?

    Leading a complex, stagnant, bureaucratic government is far different from being an entrepreneur leading a company, but there are elements of leadership for both jobs that are consistent. Lincoln and Roosevelt both resolved the challenges facing them by changing the existing system and are revered for it. The path to success for Barack Obama – and America – is for him to apply the attributes of entrepreneurial leadership in order to change the current failed system.

    What are some of the entrepreneurial leadership approaches Obama could apply to solve the challenges we face?

    • Reminisce about the future. Offering a specific vision for the future, i.e. energy independence, and challenge industry to achieve.
    • Be constant, consistent and concise. Followers follow and achieve when the leader is clear, specific and unvarying in the objective to be sought.
    • Be an architect of the future and a builder in the present. Entrepreneurial leaders live in the future but act in the present. They see the big picture but recognize the way to achieve big things is to identify simple steps to do today and simply do them.
    • Become a trust builder. People will buy into and commit to what the leader asks so long as the people trust the leader to be concerned about the interests of the people.
    • Build parallel interests in all solutions. What is good for Wall Street must be good for Main Street. What benefits some should benefit all. Equality is not necessary but equity is.
    • Offer constant, transparent communication to teach rather than tell. If people understand the objectives to be achieved and they are consistently reminded of the goals they will work to achieve them.
    • Be decisive, multifaceted and ethical to a fault. The leader needs to be clear and unequivocal as to where he wishes to lead and can be counted on to do the right thing to achieve it.

    The complexity of the challenges facing America may make these points seem simplistic and little more than bromides, but while the bureaucrat looks for complex solutions to complex problems, the entrepreneurial leader knows the path to success is to make the complex simple.

    Here is hoping that President Barack Obama will apply these entrepreneurial leadership traits in order to change the system and resolve the challenges we all face. If so, he will be welcomed to the pantheon of great American leaders.

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