THE BLOG

Analysis: 'The Birth Certificate Scene'

Apr 28, 2011 | Updated Jun 28, 2011

To understand the leadership style modeled by President Obama, it helps to look at it through the lens of improvisation. Not improvisation as in Second City comedy, or 'making it up as we go along.' Improvisation as collaborative problem solving. Like jazz. Questing after the music that only our combined talents, working harmoniously, can reveal.

From the time when, as a kid, he emerged from a mud puddle laughing after the roughneck older boys tossed him into it... to the fast learning he did after his defeat in the 2000 Illinois Democratic Congressional primary... to the moves his team has made to help the economy recover from 8 years of criminal mismanagement by the Cheney-Rumsfeld administration... excellent improvisation has been the Obama way.

At GameChangers, we define improvisation as: A process for consistently producing positive outcomes from unforeseen circumstances.

The ability to improvise has always been a hallmark of great communicators, and never more so than today, in our networked world. The forces and voices at play on any political (or brand) narrative are too fluid and persistent for any scenario scripted in traditional PR fashion to maintain its relevance for long.

Here's an analysis of this week's developments in the 'Birth Certificate' scene.

Donald Trump initiated the scene a couple of weeks ago by energizing a 'birther' narrative that had grown flat and lifeless.

Obama, having had this move in his pocket all along, releases the Birth Certificate when he does to give Trump high status among Republicans. In improvisation, this is called 'giving a gift' to a scene. It is a kind of trigger, a bit of new information, or an object, that can unlock an otherwise-static scene. In traditional politics, this kind of thing is viewed as being submissive, or capitulating to a more powerful player. That's almost the opposite of how an improviser sees it. In improvisation, giving a gift is the most powerful move a player can make, because it empowers everyone in the scene. Donald Trump included.

Trump takes the gift strongly by claiming credit for the reveal, and ups the ante (in improvisation, this is known as 'yes-anding,' which results in 'heightening') by announcing that now he's going after Obama's college records. (Trump himself is an excellent improviser.)

Giving this gift achieves two objectives for the president:

First, by helping keep Trump as the Republicans' most visible candidate, Obama metatags the lot of them as a bunch of hairspray-addicted blowhards who have squandered daddy's fortune, and can't even make money in rigged games like Atlantic City casinos and Manhattan real estate.

Second, the meta-language embedded in the move helps keep the president's conversation with the electorate focused where it should be, on the relationship between D.C. and NYC, i.e. the federal government and big money. The energy behind the populist discontent with the 'One Percenters' can, and will, help drive the 2012 Democratic campaign. This is a teaser trailer.

The old command-and-control, script-and-repeat models don't work any more, not in politics, or in any kind of highly-networked environment like the news. Only skillful improvisation, in which we don't compete for the dominant narrative, but, rather, quest after the music that only our combined talents can reveal, will turn chaos into a cosmos.