Just a few short years ago, when our country elected George W. Bush for his second term as President of the United States, many people would have found it inconceivable to imagine that our country would elect an African-American president in 2008. Whether or not you agree with the outcome of the election, I believe we have seen an exciting demonstration that it is possible to overcome tremendous odds to get more of the outcomes we really want.
So what are the most important factors for overcoming the odds? Here are three of the lessons we can take from observing the 2008 campaign:
- Focus on unshakable passion and commitment to a vision: To me, this is the foundation for overcoming the odds of any endeavor because it helps us to push past the obstacles. For example, at the beginning of the campaign, some of the most popular reasons either candidate could have used to stop campaigning included “too old,” “too young,” “no money,” “not enough experience,” “a minority,” etc. It would have been easy for either candidate to never try or to quit had they lived into their very real obstacles. But these obstacles represented only half of the truth. Both candidates tapped into their passion and commitment to find the rest of the truths: these were all of the good reasons why they could win. Certainly, passion and commitment to a vision won’t guarantee a desired result. However it’s more likely that we’ll be doing everything that can be done under the circumstances.
- Acknowledge the odds – no matter how long – then develop a strategy to win: At the earliest stages of the primaries, Obama acknowledged that winning was a long shot and that Hillary Clinton had more organization and funding behind her. She also connected strongly with a large percentage of Democratic women. But rather than let these realities get in his way, Obama and his staff used them to develop a counter strategy: a grassroots campaign that especially appealed to a larger number of voters Clinton had more difficulty connecting with – young people, minorities, and the middle class. Applying this lesson to any other situation that has long odds, the question we can ask ourselves is, “If one approach is closed, what other options are open to us to get us where we want to go?” Often, there are more choices than we originally thought possible.
- Galvanize your supporters: It’s undeniable that Obama not only knew the characteristics of his strongest supporters, he also knew how to reach them and galvanize them into action on his behalf. The key was to understand their needs and tap into their hearts before he tapping into their minds. He communicated directly with his supporters, bypassing the media and using a variety of channels they actually tuned into. For instance, no other campaign has used the Internet as effectively to reach out to young voters.. Applying this lesson: Who are our strongest supporters, and how can we improve our communication with them so that they are galvanized into taking positive action on our behalf?
I’m sure that over time there we will learn other lessons from both the Democratic and Republican campaigns. Stay tuned.