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the business of barack

Watching the Barackticon today, I remembered Mark Andreessen’s conversation with Obama before the nomination battle began, and this bit in particular:

We asked him directly, how concerned should we be that you haven’t had meaningful experience as an executive — as a manager and leader of people?

He said, watch how I run my campaign — you’ll see my leadership skills in action.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of his answer — political campaigns are often very messy and chaotic, with a lot of turnover and flux; what conclusions could we possibly draw from one of those?

I’m drawing the same conclusions as Andreessen did: I’ve been really impressed by the confidence and professionalism of this campaign, right down to the sheer chutzpah of putting on that concluding speech in a sports stadium.

Part of it, I suppose, might be down to simply being able to throw down more money than the next guy, but when I think back to the awkwardness and slip-ups of the Kerry democratic convention and campaign, it really stands out that there’s a great team at work here. You can pick good people to be on your team, but it takes real expertise to pick good people who themselves can pick good people, and so on.

I thought the same thing about both Bush campaigns: they weren’t quite so picture-perfect as this, but you got a feeling of a well-oiled party machine grinding into action — albeit using old (and to me unfamiliar) tools to do so. I remember reading an inside-the-Bush-Whitehouse book extract from a young speechwriter who talked about how you never saw anyone not in their business suits in the Bush campaign, which I can believe. It was a print-out and spreadsheet, pinstripe success.

This Obama campaign, which I have probably cursed by saying this out loud, looks from the outside like a well-run, contemporary business: seemingly the right mix of enthusiasm and discipline, encouragement and focus. I view organisations like that as a sort of minor miracle, because the working environment has changed so radically in the last decade that I despair of anyone getting it right. You’re safer using the old disciplines, but at a cost: that’s what makes your company or image appear distant and inhuman compared to the bumbling, chaotic but adventurous alternatives. Bush’s skill was appearing human despite that kind of frozen discipline, and you only had to see how badly Gore and Kerry were at imitating the same relaxation to see the challenge of covering up all that machinery.

I suspect that if Obama gets in, they’ll be an awful lot of Fast Company-style books written about this campaign, and how to build your business the same way.

One Response to “the business of barack”

  1. Danny O’Brien’s Oblomovka » Blog Archive » electoral roulette; being a jeffersonian Says:

    […] me by betraying the main issue I cared about in this Congress. I worry that I’ve brought down my curse on the Democrats with the arrival of Sarah Palin, the sort of emotional down-at-home story that […]


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