Barack Obama, will you tap the groundswell?
by Josh Bernoff
Like many of you, I watched the election last night, and watched Barack Obama's acceptance speech. This speech capped off an election in which Obama demonstrated inspirational leadership and the power to organize and take advantage of a true groundswell. Groundswell means, literally, a rise in the ocean. Figuratively, it typically refers to a political movement in which people come together around a common cause. Could there be any better example than this?
Through my.barackobama.com, through Facebook and MySpace and YouTube, and through clever outreach to his supporters, Obama's campaign has truly energized its fans and turned the power of their passion to spreading his messages and gaining the votes he needed. In this country balanced on the knife edge on so many issues, I think it is no exaggeration to say that Barack Obama owes his victory to the effectiveness of his campaign's groundswell Internet strategy.
Barack Obama faces perhaps the most complex set of problems to face a president in the last fifty years, from terrorism to a teetering economy to a deficit that scares the crap of out me for my children's future. He has the power to inspire people behind the solutions he may come up with. He's clearly intelligent. But does he have the humility to gather those solutions from the popular groundswell that elected him?
If Starbucks can source ideas from the groundswell -- if Mattel can learn from its mistakes by connecting with ordinary people -- if Hershey's can get people to try new chocolates with Internet word of mouth, can Barack Obama's government tap the same sources of energy?
I call on president-elect Obama to create a community of committed Americans to discuss the solutions to the problems that face us. I call on him to designate a US Community Manager, with a small staff, to moderate and harvest those discussions to solve the country's problems. Forget polls. With a few million people in my.america.gov, Obama will be able to tap into the world's largest focus group. Communities are cheap, compared to most of what the government does. Create a space for the brightest people you know; use them to attract the best ideas. And better yet, use this energized community to sell those ideas to America.
Presidents are powerful, but the reality is that politics requires compromise. But politicians with the people on their side usually win out. With a community behind him, Obama will need no further mandate. And he'll look smarter with a few thousand idea generators behind him.
Or he could just do things the way people in Washington have always done them, in secret, watered down, inefficiently, and in the most costly way possible. That's never worked all that well, and it's been working even more poorly lately.
It's late, and tiredness has overcome the usual constraints on my idealism. I promise to be more reasonable in the morning. In the meantime, how about giving the groundswell a chance, President-Elect Obama?