Spotlight on Obama (Commentary)

Obama accepts the Party’s nomination. Video of his full speech is now available, and I highly recommend it. (They edited out the length of the animated applause, but I captured that here)


Something clicked for me during this speech. While Obama itemized a platform to make “change” more specific, it did not seem nearly as important as the philosophy and intellect that he would bring to the office.


And then I realized why I considered his experience just perfect for the job… Obama is like the CEO you would want to run a company in a dynamic growth industry, and McCain is the kind of Board member you’d want in a mature, dying industry to curry favors from bureaucrats and other cronies of the past.


In the information age, the great new businesses are often run by young, intelligent people lacking any serious business experience– Apple, Microsoft, HP, Dell, Oracle, Google (Actually, they were run by CEOs in their teens or early 20s.)


So too with relatively "inexperienced" political leaders like Kennedy and Lincoln (regarded by many as our best President). In rapidly changing environments, experience is often more of an albatross than an asset. Wisdom and experience can be a facade for a rigid, dogmatic, and thus brittle process of decision-making. In the information age, we need a process that is fluid, adaptive and thereby robust.


Laying out a plan is a fine exercise, but long-term business plans are increasingly irrelevant. Remember when Japanese corporations proclaimed 100 year plans... Silicon Valley execs just chuckled. In a static industry, plans and platforms are important. In the modern era, process is more important than platform, and you want a leader that can adapt and even capitalize on rare events that increasingly define our world (aka Black Swans).


Nobody voted for Bush – or Giulani in New York – because of their campaign promises about how they would deal with the 9/11 that had not happened yet.


So, I tend to ignore the platforms and promises for a future that is increasingly unpredictable. Like the CEOs that we invest in, their character is more important than a snapshot of current ideas. We look for an adaptive intelligence, an eager lifelong learner, a high energy level, impeccable integrity, and enough self-confidence to be humble.


  • _sarchi 7y

    well said
  • biotron 7y

  • Alan Grinberg 7y

    Very well said.
    Hopefully you send this off to some "Letters to the Editor".
  • Vasudev (Vas) Bhandarkar 7y

  • Steve Jurvetson 7y

    thanks y'all.

    agrinberg: I have just posted this here... did not think it worthy of more... I guess you could call it a VC perspective on experience vs. ability.

    For me, it was just a clarity that came to me as to why I did not care about the things that seem to concern others... And why there seemed to be such a disconnect in the rhetoric of both sides... And why the younger generation gets it...
  • msamaclean © 7y

    "...... the philosophy and intellect that he would bring to the office."

    Oh, hell yes!!! Wouldn't that be a refreshing change!!!!!..;-O
  • Reshma Beeranthbail 7y

    It's maddening that he isn't doing any better in the polls... This should have been a slam dunk, right?
  • Tomi Tapio K 7y

    Hey! I like that!
  • Duncan Rawlinson - @thelastminute - 7y

    Obama FTW!
  • Steve Jurvetson 7y

    I just rediscovered my cynicism from the last election, from a discussion I had with a ostensibly brilliant economist, Wes Clark, who proposed protectionism for American manufacturing jobs in a way that defied any possible implementation as far as I could tell.

    squeezing the General

    In December 2003, it seemed like a "fundamental failure of American politics: the votes and the lobbyists represent the "old". The "new", by definition, lacks any political power, as it is the future. This plays out in copyright extensions, farm subsidies, steel tariffs, and other props to old industries. Funding for nanotech is the anomaly.

    The economic policies it takes to get elected are generally corrosive to the long term health of the nation. In the past, this could be absorbed by an economic juggernaut. Given the accelerating pace of technological change and the increasing percentage of the economy that is driven by technology, we can no longer afford to protect the past at the expense of the future. A "parenting" concern for future generations does not apply to industries, organizations or companies - they are driven entirely by self preservation, even when their members recognize that they are dinosaurs.

    New-entrant economies, like Singapore, are not straddled with this political baggage and can pursue more enlightened policy, to great effect. They will eventually ossify, like the U.S. political system, into a preservation of the present, but they show the essential power and ascendancy of new entrants – in companies, industries and unfortunately, countries.

    So many politicians propose protectionist expediencies that do long term economic harm. No politician seems willing to address the core issue – primary math and science education – because it is a long-term investment. Maybe a focus on adult education and retraining could hit the political time frame of relevance. The truth is a difficult political issue: how can we face the failure of our educational system and the long-term shift of so many manufacturing jobs and not lose most voters by insulting the current constituency?"
  • Jens-Olaf Walter 7y

    From my German perspective, I am so tired of the ever growing anti-americanism. It was so good to see the change in Berlin, that people want to listen what the candidate for the White House has to say.
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Taken on August 28, 2008
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