WSJ On Obama the Entrepreneur and Lessons

Really interesting analysis of the Obama campaign by Bret Swanson at the WSJ. Moreover, the author takes the lessons of Obama’s success and asks the President-Elect to keep these lessons in mind as he prepares his economic policies. From the piece:

The community organizer seemed to realize that new social networking and video technologies were perfect for politics. It didn’t hurt that Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes worked for the campaign. “What ultimately transformed the presidential race,” Joshua Green of The Atlantic wrote in June, “was not the money that poured in from Silicon Valley but the technology and the ethos.”

The results of Mr. Obama’s decentralized Web effort were staggering: 8,000 Web-based affinity groups, 50,000 local events, 1.5 million Web volunteers, and 3.1 million donors who contributed almost $700 million. Republicans, Charlie Cook reported on Nov. 3, believe their large but impersonal centralized databases could not match the tacit knowledge, individual initiative and agility of Mr. Obama’s diffuse social networks.

A thought experiment, Mr. President-elect: What if as your campaign raised more and more money it was taxed away and given to Mr. McCain to level the field? Or think of this: What if you were not allowed to opt out of the public financing scheme that left Mr. McCain with a paltry $84 million, about a quarter of your autumn total?

Opting out of monopolistic, closed or centralized systems is often the path to innovation. Sometimes we opt out through the relaxation of regulations. More often, technology allows us to leap, obliterate or ignore the obstacles altogether.

So on education, why doesn’t Mr. Obama take Charles Murray’s advice? Instead of spending ever more billions to send ever more students to get often-meaningless, four-year college degrees, we should disaggregate the higher education market using the Web and skill-specific short courses and accreditation exams.

Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School makes a similar argument for K-12 education, where we mindlessly follow a century-old way of doing business. Get rid of this manufacturing era, “value chain” model — where we take inputs (students), add value (sometimes), and spit them out the other end — in favor of a “user network” model where unique students with distinct learning styles plug in to smart software and tutoring tools that deliver a customized education.

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