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Campaigning in the Networked World

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As the first U.S. presidential candidate in the general election with a post-TRON education, and the first adept at using the internet as a media and fundraising engine, Barack Obama continues to demonstrate that he and his team have the chops to relieve the U.S. government of the inflexible and outmoded Industrial Age mindset of the Bush Administration.

This trip to the Middle East and Europe is the latest example of what Obama understands about the Networked World that John McCain does not. It goes much deeper than knowing how to use email. For a person to say, as Sen. McCain does, that his wife "does the computer stuff" represents willful ignorance of the era in which we live, a mulish resistance to change that bodes poorly for a government and an economy in need of change on so many fronts.

Obama understands the exponential nature of networks and how every connected person -- Brian Williams, American troops in Afghanistan, European audiences, you, me -- becomes, in effect, both a potential contributor to the narrative and a potential participant in it. He understands that in this endlessly amplified environment even the small moves -- a pick-up basketball game, a little librarian with a sign, a two-line scene with a Marine -- have significance. This understanding gives Obama a sense of context and nuance that his tone-deaf opponent clearly cannot match.

Obama and his team show time and again that the story of a candidacy, or of any brand for that matter, cannot be scripted the way, for example, George Bush scripted 'Mission Accomplished' -- like it was the happy-making coda to some Disney movie. Scripted narratives erode like sand castles in the fluid dynamics of networks. 'What I want to happen' collapses under relentless waves of 'What is actually happening.'

Obama realizes that in in this fluid networked environment, skillful improvisation is essential for success. The Obama campaign's ability to improvise -- to remain open to all possibilities for a 'scene' and not get locked into a specific script or way to solve a problem -- give his candidacy the immediacy and buoyancy that make for good campaigning, and good governing. By improvising instead of scripting, the Obama team can make quick decsions that are aligned with the best interests of the country. The dogmatic McCain, meanwhile, repeats his "The surge worked' line like some Vegas lounge act hypnotist whose schtick has not changed since he opened for Sinatra at the Sands.

Obama understands that the U.S. government is more than ever a global brand whose audience is not limited to voters in the general election, and whose policies do not affect American citizens alone. It is ludicrous of the McCain team to suggest that Obama's European trip a) fails to demonstrate foreign policy expertise; or b) campaigns in front of people who will not have a say in whom we elect as President.

In the Networked World, American policy is extrinsically linked to the political and economic fates of other countries and their people. Obama's performance in front of overseas audiences will demonstrate alignment with our allies and help countries who are against the Bush policies (like, uh, all of them) become more open to problem-solving in areas like international security, trade and energy.

In the Networked World, overseas audiences do have a say in the U.S. Presidential election. They vote with their mobile phones, their blogs, their media, their money, their enthusiasm and applause -- sometimes their lives. Obama understands that to be an American President the reality of law is that one must be an American citizen, and the reality of life is that one must be a citizen of the world.

Mike Bonifer is the author of GameChangers - Improvisation for Business in the Networked World. His website is