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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.


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Taken on August 28, 2008