The business news in 2009 is about as expected in 2008. The recession is deep, and shows no sign of abating (see news here.) Meanwhile many are disappointed in the extremely expensive stimulus bill passed by Congress, including both democrats and republicans. Television press of all sorts took time to show Rick Santelli, a commodity reporter on CNBC, who "went off" on what he felt were unfairness issues in the administration's mortgage bailout plan (see video clip and read comments on CNBC here.) Amidst a lot of popular hope for a fast set of improvements based on the change in administration, it appears there is little bipartisan behavior and the same old wrangling may jeapardize improvements in other important issues like energy and health care (read article here on political capital and poor bipartisan behavior.)
Unfortunately, all of this has gone pretty much as readers of this blog should have expected. What we know is that to execute a change, you first need a Disruption. Without a Disruption, something that causes people to stop and reassess their position, people will not put much consideration into change and will instead remain Locked-in to past behaviors. So far, there's been no Disruption in Washington D.C.
"What about the dramatic increase in the number of democrat party Congresspeople and Senators, as well as a democrat in the presidency?" you might ask. "Doesn't that constitute a Disruption?" And the answer is no. It represents a Challenge – primarily to republicans. That the market has shifted is clear. But most organizations remain Locked-in despite obvious market shifts. These shifts pose Challenges, and it is up to us to deal with them. But what we know is that most people, and organizations, deal with Challenges by doing more of what they did in the past!! The view is that the Challenge is best dealt with by refocusing on the Success Formula (and the republicans have a strong one that includes tax cuts, lower spending, and social conservatism.) When Challenged, most leaders will behave as if they just need to do more, better, faster (and in business cheaper) Success Formula execution to get back to old results. And that is exactly how republicans are behaving.
Democrats are also reacting from historical Lock-in. The behavior of republicans, to re-exert their Success Formula, has posed a Challenge to democrats. But their response has been to largely continue pushing their party's Success Formula which includes populism, redistributing the tax base, and public spending. The democratic party also keeps doing more of the same, hoping that execution will "convert" some republicans to their behavior by increasing the Challenge republicans face.
This behavior was entirely predictable. Unlike previous Presidents, Barack Obama has entered the office with an effort to move very, very fast. His first major budget proposal went to the Congress in under 1 month from taking office! Compare that to Reagan who did not propose his big tax cuts (although he had talked about the idea in the election) until June! And Kennedy's proposal to dramatically increase NASA and defense spending didn't come until 6 months in office as well.
Both Reagn and Kennedy had time to Disrupt the Congress, and many important government employees, before recommending a bipartisan change. Reagan fired the striking PATCO air traffic controllers. He showed that there was an alternative approach to governing, and even if Congress didn't support him (which the democratic congress did not) he was intent on running the government differently. Firing all the PATCO workers sent a signal no one could ignore, and opened the door for considering 50% tax cuts the likes of which no one had ever tried! Likewise, by blockading Cuba and entering a "stare down" with the Russians over missile bases Kennedy sent a shock through Washington. Even those adamantly opposed to increased spending had to stop and re-think their next steps after the President's actions – and the lack of successful results implementing the old approach in the Bay of Pigs. Both of these Presidents took action that Disrupted Washington enough that it created the opportunity for doing new things.
President Obama has a powerful agenda. He takes office at a very troubling time. No one thinks doing nothing will work. But getting bipartisan agreement on any plan will not happen without a Disruption. President Clinton in his early Presidency fired the travel office and implemented a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gays in the military. These actions did not Disrupt Washington. People did not think these constituted a need to change their approach to governing. And he struggled to get bipartisan backing. His best success happened after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, but as that never led to Disruption in the policy apparatus, quickly he was embroiled in political attacks that haunted his presidency. One outcome of this inability to Disrupt was complete failure on any kind of health care or energy policy change (despite enormous efforts by his administration.)
I recommended the President work hard to find the right Disruption early in his presidency. I reiterate that recommendation. America has serious problems that need addressing – and it will require White Space to try new things. But we won't get to try new things as arguments dissolve into party bickering if something does not Disrupt the situation. Right now both parties are focused on their Challenges. Someone will have to Disrupt if they are to focus on new solutions.