OK, the system is flexing, both visibly and not. Joe Trippi, the man who planted the seed, is out and Roy Neel will now try to grow it.

I assume they’ll let me retain my corner office (corner of a folding table in the volunteer bullpen), but I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks. This should make the Digital Democracy Teach-In on Feb. 9 even more interesting. For starters, Trippi should come as the patron saint (along with co-saint Joi)

People seem to be looking for insiders to comment on this, and Jim Moore said a lot about this transition just before the announcement, perhaps preparing us for it. Jim’s point is that the campaign has in many respects been about its momentum rather than its accomplishments.

Back in the dotcom days, there was an awful lot of “momentum investing” where a stock was seen as valuable because of its rate of gain in value.  Sort of like being famous for being well-known.

The Dean campaign is no longer a momentum play.  Momentum investors are going to go toward Kerry, or stay with the ultimate momentum stock, George W. Bush. 

The Dean campaign, meanwhile, is now either going to become a solid contributor to our political landscape and society–bringing real value and a return to investors who want to make a difference, or the campaign will wither away.

Pretty candid words from a Dean insider who happens to blog.

The marketplace of political ideas is the fastest moving marketplace in which I have ever personally participated.  This week, this day, feels different from last week, and from yesterday.  Organizational learning is paramount.

So what does this mean for the Dean campaign? We have been criticised of late by our supporters for not telling the news, bad as well as good.  Supporters feel betrayed when they are told things are fine, and then find out otherwise when the votes come in.  “We could have helped” they say in distress, “but you didn’t really ask us!”

Truth and learning is vital–as an organization and as an extended community.  Learning must be built into our values, our practices, and our information and Internet systems.  We need to get the feedback going with our marketplace–a marketplace that truly wants us to exist, and has many many ways to help.


There’s been a lot of back and forth about what to do and what Dean’s non-winning streak means. Today, Mitch posted some of the stuff he’s been sending to an ad hoc email group formed around Clay Shirky‘s Many 2 Many post on the possible failures of social software and my responses. It’s led Mitch to wonder where the Dean effort might go from here:

Here’s a crazy thought: Could the widespread discussion of the Dean campaign’s current challenges produce a retooling of its software (both the code and the ideas in people’s heads) fast enough to yield an astonishing turnaround that out-turnarounds John Kerry? Not if Dean and camp are defensive about the critiques and refuse to internalize them. If it is true that no corporation can access all the intelligence in the world if it is closed off from the world, it is certainly true that a campaign that sees criticism of its strategy as an attack on the candidate will grow dumber by the minute.

Could the Dean campaign turn on a dime, like Microsoft reacting to the Web browser or Roosevelt’s America, which quadrupled production capacity of planes and ships to win World War II?

Mitch also recalls a discussion he and Doc and I held in Portland last summer (I’ve reversed these graphs for flow):

Last summer, Britt, Doc and I were sitting talking at Powell’s Books in Portland about the Dean campaign. I said I wanted to have a real impact on the campaign, which I think might have been taken as meaning that I wanted to run or be a top advisor to the campaign, but my point was that I wanted to see the campaign take me seriously enough as an individual citizen to argue with me. That’s clued. As a creator of publications and events, I can say with authority that this can be done in a very efficient manner, but when I pointed out this idea, it was ignored by the campaign. They weren’t interested, because they had completely hacked the fund-raising mechanism, which felt like enough. It wasn’t.

Engagement means arguing with, convincing and compromising with your constituency. The Dean system, which emphasized bottom-up organization of a network, but top-down delivery of policy (through a system of small advisory groups that presented the candidate with policies that, once approved, were unveiled to the electorate), remained relatively aloof from the individual voter. Britt may not see it that way, but he was involved day-to-day as a true believer. That’s a great thing.

At our meeting in Portland I described my imminent Steal this Campaign post, a meme whose time may just now be ripe for the picking. I learned a long time ago to listen carefully whenever Mitch Ratcliffe speaks. But I’ve also learned that a trusted observer on the ground is worth a squadron full of conjecturers.

The real reason is far more simple. One thing that’s not obvious from out here is that the campaign is not just some half-assed pickup game. It’s run by real pros with decades of service, who share the values and mutual respect with the programmers and web designers.

Scaling Challenge

The campaign grew by a half million registered users in about 5 months. Simultaneously, it was hiring staff and adding field offices in about 15 states.  Simultaneously, it was creating an entirely new software space, with most of it built by volunteers or underpaid virtual volunteers working even harder than in startups, and building tools in response to a fast moving target market that had never existed before. Jim Moore is correct when he tells us (above) that The marketplace of political ideas is the fastest moving marketplace in which I have ever personally participated. Jim’s been a world-class consultant for a long time. My limited experience tracks his, and yes, I’ve stayed up all night with the troops to finish before the trade show opens.

Everyone knew the field staff was vital and needed primary resources. Everyone also knew that we should do whatever could be done to have a perfect user interface on the software side, but the resources had to go to the field first. Life is choices. Mitch continues:

Now, given that the system as it is designed now has failed to produce a campaign win
, what needs to be improved? I think I’ve made my ideas clear: Build for engagement. Debate with your own supporters and by converting them to your opinions when you are right and adopting theirs when they are or compromising when you can to extend your coalition to create an enduring movement that will get people out on the streets and to the polls. If not this year, then next time. Better, do it for another candidate–there is a political eternity between now and November.

Mitch repeats what many have said. “Take the time to listen; don’t ignore my ideas.”

News flash, gang, the campaign ignores my ideas too, and I’m there a week a month. (I’m not as smart as Mitch, but I have my moments.) It also ignores most staff ideas, from a better idea pool better than any you can imagine.

There is simply no time to listen and, like any company, most ideas from the team itself are not acted on, even if they’re discussed. I sincerely believe that Mitch does have much to offer, and I’m pleased to be writing a chapter in an O’Reilly book that Mitch and Jon Lebkowsky are putting together. But without putting his fanny in a seat up there, his ideas cannot be appreciated.

We Have Met the Campaign and It is Us

Joe Trippi, R.I.P., said it best: The campaign’s out here, not in there.

Mitch does have the experience, knowledge and skills to hatch a great plan, but he needs to tell us about it and ask us to help shape the plan, scope it, resource it and make it work. So do Clay and Dave and Micah Sifry and Joi and Ben and Doc and Weinberger and all of us. And me, with earlier commitment and better access and absolutely no real results so far.

The failure of “the campaign” to do all the right things is our collective failure out here to generate, vet and deploy a superior expression of the social software that Clay feels has hurt the Dean effort. We have far more resources and ingenuity than the campaign, and we’re free from the obligation to wait for permission, which will be even harder to receive, for a while, even if Roy Neel is the answer to everyone’s prayers.

And Logic, Not Or

Could the Dean campaign turn on a dime, like Microsoft reacting to the Web browser or Roosevelt’s America, which quadrupled production capacity of planes and ships to win World War II?
                                                    — Mitch Ratcliffe

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
                                                    — Margaret Mead

If we pool our resources and find our own inspiration we can combine our strengths as a model for the future. We can invent the next America starting now, bolstered by how far the Dean campaign has come, not despairing over its interrupted crescendo. There’s nothing missing from the equation except a declaration we make, writ large so that King George will not need his spectacles to perceive it.

In doing so, we’d combine our strengths rather than piling on our mutual detractions.

The Dean turnaround is imminent, inevitable and overwhelming with simply our commitment to make it so. That commitment will succeed, staffed by so many smart, committed people. It’s time, money, brains and long hours. It’s deploying the capital we’ve sunk into the extra bedroom for these wonderful machines and immense copper pipes and glowing frames of shared enlightenment before us.

The will, commitment and follow-through are the kind of hero’s journey Joseph Campbell described, Luke’s force and Neo’s skills. It will take us as much courage as any Lord of any Ring in any age, even though it’s not physical. Trust me: what looks epic later is just a mental leap at the right moment.

The planet is watching and wondering why we’re waiting. The people at Davos last week can’t do what we can – just ask Joi and Jay and Loïc. And if we social software designers start, the world will never be the same.

Or we can just keep dissecting what went wrong.

Shakespeare said it better, but mythic warriors never had such a bold challenge with such an unforeseen outcome as we can work, simply by deciding to.

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

6:30:49 PM    

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