#DesigningThePresident Starts Now

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7 mins read

Tonight, CNN will host the last Democratic debate before the much anticipated the Iowa caucus, now just 3 weeks away. 

After Iowa comes New Hampshire, followed by Nevada, South Carolina, and, then, on March 3rd it’s Super Tuesday, where 16 states and voting regions weigh in on their primary votes.

Campaigns will be coming at us more quickly now; the passions more intense; the voices noticeably louder; requests for money more relentless. They want us to react – RIGHT NOW. 

Make no mistake, this election is urgent. But we shouldn’t conflate urgency with speed. 

In fact, we should take a moment to slow down. 

To quote Daniel Kahnamen, the psychologist and behavior economist who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work on the psychology of judgment—to make a decision of this magnitude, we actually need to think slow.  

Social media strategists, fake news campaigns, media spending and toxic smear campaigns shouldn’t choose our next president by hijacking our emotions.

We the People have the right and responsibility to choose. So let’s. 

#DesigningThePresident is a way for us to think a little slower about what we really care about in a President, and why. It is a nonpartisan, issue-agnostic, critical thinking approach to exploring individual and collective priorities on the required leadership qualities of the President of the United States.

While we can’t actually “design” our next president, we can use principles of design to create more clarity on our priorities, check our assumptions and potential biases, and have more productive conversations with others. Together, with my colleagues at the d.schoolWorldviewStudio, and Kreatives, we’re creating materials and educational experiences to enhance voter literacy, civic engagement, and community dialog. And, in the process, we hope to ignite personal agency and collective possibility to help strengthen our democracy. 

To help you engage in slow thinking while you watch the candidates share their qualifications, platforms and positions, we wanted to make some of the #DesigningThePresident materials available to provide new ways of engaging with the election, which you can download directly from here, with brief descriptions on how to use below.

As you listen to the candidates, it may be helpful to be grounded in the job they are vying for. The role of President – an elected position with a finite tenure – was a defining feature of the new democratic government that our Founders created over 230 years ago, decidedly and intentionally different than a monarchy or dictatorship. The founding “job description of the President” can be found in Article II of the U.S. Constitution.

Once we have an understanding of what we’re designing for, we can start to make some choices about the backgrounds and qualities to serve that job, irrespective of any specific candidate. Just as you would “hire” for any other job, we can objectively identify the experiences, personal qualities, and attributes matter most. For example,

  • Do you believe that a President should have military, executive, or legislative experience? Should they speak a foreign language, or have done work or study abroad?
  • Do you value empathy, compassion or relational skills? Or, do you believe the ability to be bold or pragmatic matters more?
  • Do you think the job demands the President to be a certain age, or have made certain life choices?

There are no right or wrong answers – rather, these are opportunities to reflect and make assumptions more transparent.

And, like any hiring process, we’ll be better served if we examine our own beliefs and potential biases. What are the inputs informing our point of view? Perhaps we’re anchored on the qualities of a favorite past president, or from a persuasive family member, friend, or journalist. It’s worth pausing to notice.

Armed with a more clear picture of the leadership qualities that matter, we can listen to the debates and campaign forums with a stance toward learning.

What do you notice about how the candidates present themselves? What do they choose to say or not say? How do they embody the leadership qualities you care about? Try to look beyond the catchy lines, sound bites and “gotcha” moments, and instead—listen and watch for concrete evidence and behaviors. 

For example, if you care about empathy, do you see evidence of the candidate understanding someone else’s life experience? If you believe the ability to build relationships is vital, what examples of bridge building have been discussed?

During and after the debate, reflect on what you heard in relation to your original criteria. How did each candidate align or diverge from your priorities?

Consider sharing your reactions with someone whose opinion differs from yours. Can you productively explore areas of overlap and disagreement? Why do their priorities differ than yours?

What evidence do they have that you can learn from, and vice versa? Does hearing others’ perspectives change your views in any way? Are there factual sources you could use to investigate additional aspects of the candidate? Can you use this moment to learn more about our past presidents and what made them great leaders, or not?

This is part of an ongoing effort we’re pursuing to make these tools, materials, and resources available through public and conference workshops, online posts, Common Core standards lesson plans for classrooms, empowering all voters to embrace personal agency and collective possibility to strengthen a democracy that’s by the people, for the people. 

Join us!

Originally posted on LinkedIn. Re-posted with permission.


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Lisa Kay Solomon is a renowned thought leader, educator and expert on business leadership and culture design. The founding Chair of Transformational Practices and Leadership at Singularity University, Solomon works to help companies adapt to the forces of technological and social change, by emphasizing their underlying cultures as catalysts for (or detriments to) innovation. Lisa is currently a Designer in Residence at Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (a.k.a. the "d. school") focused on the futures and frontiers of design.

A TEDx speaker, Lisa frequently keynotes at leading business schools across the country including Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Virginia and Cornell University, and at dozens of global innovation and leadership conferences around the world.

Lisa is a passionate educator, teaching the foundational Innovation Studio course at the revolutionary MBA in Design Strategy program at California College of the Arts and popular classes at the Stanford d. School, including Inventing the Future and Designing with the Brain in Mind.

Lisa co-authored the Wall Street Journal bestseller, “Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change,” and more recently, “Design a Better Business: New Tools, Skills and Mindset for Strategy and Innovation,” which has been translated into over 12 languages.

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