It couldn’t happen without the kids. The Dean Phenomenon is impossible by any conventional measure of how enterprises function, how work is completed and how power is transferred.
The campaign’s enabling technology is a bunch of twenty-somethings who do projects with little direction and no or little pay, usually with free software that took several hundred thousand hours to write, coordinating among themselves without memos or manuals but with instant, ephemeral indicators and descriptions.
Out of that bricolage they’re forging a revolution that’s as dramatic as the one the Founding Hackers programmed 227 years ago. If Jefferson, Paine and Franklin were alive they’d have found their way to Burlington and be sitting in here too, at two in the morning, hacking code, tweaking interfaces, configuring databases and exchanging staccato messages, woven into a web of shared awareness that’s like a busily productive hive.
The most important thing about this place is subtle but obvious once you get it. These kids know things together and work together in a way that’s fundamentally different from people just a decade older. Their information arrives in spare snippets, morphing and spreading constantly among the members of their collective, by IM, email, IRC, listserve, Wiki, SMS, cross-cubicle chat, RSS, cell phone, SlashDot and Google, but rarely recorded explicitly for private use. They share an assumption that whatever knowledge needed will be instantly retrievable and that the hive will produce required resources at the time needed, no earlier or later. If it’s not available, they just use what is and press on. They don’t theorize that perfect is the enemy of good, they live it.
My generation, and probably a couple after me, was taught that each of us is responsible for all the information we encounter. We’re obligated to capture, archive, organize, index, format and present it, on demand, to whichever audience needs to be straightened out so they see things as we do. This is the process that’s been used since, like, forever, and look how successful it’s been. It never prevented one of the greatest intellectual societies in history, Germany, from savaging the world twice and suffer ignominious defeat both times. And it didn’t keep the US from its hubris-driven adventures in Viet Nam and Iraq.
No, it’s clear that the top-down, hierarchical model of social organization has failed us consistently.
Make no mistake, there are plenty of adults organizing things in traditional ways in Burlington, but the rapid give-and-take is the secret sauce, concocted by the kids. And we’re learning how to do it, though it’s a struggle.
The Higher Archy
Every age needs its -archy. The Greeks had their oligarchy, the Middle Ages their monarchy, the Industrial Age its hierarchy and McKinley’s assassin sought anarchy. Kids today follow an organizing principle with an instinct for the higher good while allowing any participant to take whatever role feels right. Those who do more do not look down on less spectacularly performing teammates any more than the quarterback disses his right guard.
This new way of dealing is totally natural to them and foreign to me. I’m barely able to even recognize the profundity of the differences in how we acquire and process information. I suppose it’s like the difference between a Jazz musician and her manager.
Joe Trippi is the Phil Jackson of Presidential campaigns. He doesn’t so much tell his players what to do as he tells them what to pay attention to. Like Jackson, he creates an environment and then works on his team’s attitudes and insights. On Wednesday he emerged into the bullpen outside his office where the web team and Media Miners, about a dozen in all, twiddle the bits that describe Howard Dean to the world, where they host the Web Application called the Dean Campaign.
“Listen up, people! Who can tell me what’s on Kerry’s page right now?”
“What have I told you?! You need to know what’s going on out there all the time!”
That’s it. Back to the Bat Cave. You could almost hear Kerry’s server logs churning as the Dean Hive browsed to it and started diddling with a silly little Flash widget that gives you access to the Contribution Page only after hitting a carnival bell with a hammer.
Joe’s point wasn’t that the animation was lame, though it was. His point was that all his people need to be thinking like a Campaign Manager! He didn’t hold a meeting with his Commanders to produce policy for the Lieutenant Commanders to brief the company commanders on the directions to give to the troops. No, this campaign hasn’t time for that. Everything will work out fine if everybody keeps thinking like the coach.
The Smartest Network Wins
…as David Weinberger said.
Trippi said in his Lessig interview that this is an open source campaign. He spoke freely Thursday night at a classic Vermont-style town meeting in Waterbury with folks who came to hear Joe and Zephyr describe the campaign and the cultural struggle that lies behind it. Joe spoke passionately (counter to type) about a three-decade decline in individual influence, as people power was ceded to corporate interests. He told these Vermonters that they have an obligation to do what’s possible to bring their old American values to a nation that has forgotten how to come together and thrash out the issues and disagree on core principles for hours, but still get coffee afterwards. These people have known Howard Dean for decades, some have been his patients. Their admiration for him is immense and their passion to right the wrongs they perceive has them cheering for his Campaign Manager and Internet Outreach Director like the rock stars they’re becoming.
The lessons we’re learning from this network is not that hive mind diminishes the intelligence of its individuals. Rather it amolifies their capabilities, just as a hive is so much smarter than the bees are.
So if you’re wondering what the Dean buzz is really about, it’s about the hive. 412,791 and growing.