I’m privileged to be the Senior Lurker and Occasional Contributor to the team that’s building AmericansForDean (A4D)–Zack & Josh and all the rest. After having my open source sensors tuned up at OSCon last week, it’s fascinating to watch these guys re-inventing democracy out in the open.
These truly are the best of times, because our tools have become permission-free. Just as there is no way to stop us from Purchasing the Dean Campaign by buying our own votes, there is also no way any force on earth can keep citizens from giving themselves the tools to contribute money, ideas, talent and shoe leather to the political activity of their choice. A4D is building an open source toolkit. I call it Campaign-in-a-Box (notice that little RSS Feeds widget in the center):
There’s an interesting aspect to all open source tools: These are commodities that, like Google or the ‘Net itself, stop working if passionate people don’t show up each day, as Tim O’Reilly pointed out in his OSCon keynote. You may have all the money in the world, but unless you invest yourself in the results you promise to the world, there’s no there there.
The scarce resource is NOT capital, but rather the ideas and energy to make commodity tools do insanely great things. Once there’s a resource scarcer than capital, are we still practicing capitalism? I’m not sure.
Different organizations treat mistakes differently. When I flew airplanes for Uncle Sam, we always talked about fuck-ups. They are the raw material for all aviation stories, since aviation is hours of sheer boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. We all agreed that aviation rules are just a collection of be-nos.
Yeah, be-nos. As in “There’ll be no more of this and there’ll be no more of that.” Every action you take in an airplane is surrounded by the hundred ways you could screw it up with spectacular results. You’re never on course, you’re correcting back to course. You’re never on time, you’re adjusting to make your ETA. And bombs dropped by humans are never right on target.
I saw that kind of approach in my consulting to a couple of university medical departments. Every week, they hold an “M&M”–Morbidity and Mortality Conference about what went wrong the previous week. Doctors talk proactively about mistakes for the same reasons pilots do–their mistakes are so obvious and so significant. Perhaps Dr. Dean will talk about mistakes as well as successes, for how can anyone enjoy success without committing errors?
The same is true for engineers and programmers. Programmers write code and immediately list all the things that are wrong with it. A group of programmers talks about what’s wrong, ways things can be done better and then they go away and do real work to improve performance the next day. Here’s the kind of thinking you get from a programmer:
But that’s not how most companies behave. Companies never tell you what’s wrong, though it’s obvious that things are haywire. Instead they minimize problems and deflect criticism and suggestions. We’ve built a business culture focused so much on appearances that reality is nowhere in sight.
It should be no surprise that, when a President campaigns as our CEO, his spin can outweigh his facts, causing some people–curmudgeonly sticklers for detail–to mistrust the spin behind the recent hostile takeover bid for a long term, low cost oil lease in the middle east.
You don’t collect Internet clues if you’re in denial about your mistakes.
There’s a current notion in the body politic that it’s unpatriotic to discuss problems. Finding faults in America is equated with finding fault with the American experiment. Of course that’s just silly. We’re making mistakes every day because this nation is a human enterprise. People with an America–Love It or Leave It bumper sticker apparently can’t live in an imperfect world, preferring to be coddled in some theme park America where you’re surrounded by uncomplaining, politically passive citizens.
On Tuesday Doc quoted his Cluetrain co-author:
Wow. “What’s happening in slow motion to business is happening rapidly to politics.” And then I got it: Politics is like war, where you improvise within a tactical framework, without the luxury of endless staff meetings.
Unlike past campaigns, Dean’s Campaign Manager Joe Trippi is running one that doesn’t claim to know it all. He acknowledges that he’s learning from the comments posted on the campaign’s blog. The campaign’s bloggers, Zephyr and Matt and Joe and (oh yes) Howard, are having a conversation with their supporters, speaking in a human voice:
Technology happens fastest in war and communications technology is happening fast in this campaign. The campaign has built a rapid feedback loop that’s not going to disappear after the election. These donors will be just as demanding of the President they bought as any other donors. And that’s where the A4D network comes in. Remember that widget called RSS Feeds in the network graphic?
It’s a technical breakthrough in campaign organization, a chaordic disruption of party politics, and another genie freed from its bottle. This is a big deal:
Consider these two comments (of 127 so far) to the blog announcement that former Senator Howard Metzenbaum (Ohio) is supporting Dean. This is the kind of ferment that’s not unusual in 19 minutes of Blog For America comments:
“Since we definitely have the people power we’ve got to use it.”
Has that kind of dialogue ever been conducted by anyone but campaign staffers? Have two voters ever designed a letter-writing campaign and ragged on a campaign manager to provide the contact data so they can get out the vote? But it gets better. The campaign staff is surely overwhelmed with the mechanics of the campaign. Will they be able to respond to Anne and Alan’s initiative? It’s not certain.
Has a campaign ever enjoyed the resources represented by A4D and thousands of other experts who consider it their obligation to manage data on behalf of the campaign? Experts with the means to design the data base, the User Interface, and acquire the data for their fellow voters to write letters and to report which letters have been sent and which calls made?
How does a conventional campaign, no matter how rich, respond to such passion? It’s a big challenge in a world where passion and smarts is the apparent successor to capital as the dominant force in our economy.