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Designer Obama

I was catching up on a couple of my favorite bloggers earlier today when a theme of optimism emerged. Last week Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week described President Obama’s speech to congress in his blog as “designerly.” Later I found Matt Asay’s blog from a few days earlier focusing on Obama’s interest in open source technology.

Since the earliest days of his campaign, it is clear that President Obama possesses a genuine understanding of design and open source thinking. He is a gifted communicator who aligns perfectly the form/media of his messages with the content he’s delivering. His principles, words and actions are in sync. When he speaks of ‘bottoms up’ problem solving, he ‘gets’ it far beyond intellectual and competitive theory arguments. I’d say that’s a good set of attributes to describe the ‘designer’ of the future. Bush was our first MBA president. I think it’s fair to claim Obama as the first, modern ‘design thinking’ president. I can only assume his work as a community organizer helped him realize the deep cultural underpinnings that are necessary as a platform to put collaborative innovation/tranformation to practice. But collaborative design cultures are fragile. It is hard for chickens to collaborate with the fox. Or, in Obama’s case, FOX. It’s hard to overstate the obstacles that real change will face. When I worked at Red Hat my friend Todd Barr coined the term ‘colloberation’ which we used when referring to participants more interested in forcing others to ‘collaborate’ with their agenda than collaborating authentically. I’m reminded of that term now as I watch the Republican leadership desperately attempting to position the new administration as arrogant, partisan and non-collaborative.

This new form of collaboration works. The open source software development community is a wonderful example of the value, speed, efficiency and competitive advantage radical collaboration can ignite. Open source demands transparency, freedom, authenticity, commitment and courage. Roger Martin’s book— The Responsibility Virus— offers a great recipe for how to apply it.

The creative communities of design and open source should not be fooled into thinking any of this will be easy. It will be hard work. But it certainly feels great to be optimistic again!

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