Monday, January 23, 2017

A Focused Discipline

President Obama and President Clinton had some things in common, but they also had respects in which they were very different. President Clinton was unlikely to begin a meeting on schedule, but he was even less likely to end it on schedule, so you were likely to get a little more than your allotted time. President Obama, meetings could begin early and so you needed to be in your office and ready to come downstairs in case he wanted to begin a meeting early. You had better be pretty sure that you were able to say what you had to say quickly because when your time was over, your time was over, and he was going to move on.

President Clinton was less than 100 percent certain to have read your memo. But if he hadn’t read it he would read it as you summarized it for him, and he would master it very quickly. President Obama was virtually certain to have read your memo and to have read it extremely thoughtfully.

President Obama brought a focused discipline. He didn’t want to talk about things that the President didn’t need to get involved in. If his economic advisor couldn’t figure out the difference between subordinated debt and preferred stock, he certainly didn’t think it was his job to help. President Clinton was prepared to try to do his job, but was also prepared to offer you a tremendous amount of advice on how to do your job.

President Obama was focused on how, whatever particular issue was being discussed, related to the rest of the issues in his Presidency and the rest of the factors that were present in any political situation. President Clinton was focused on those things, but was likely also focused on things he had read somewhere or conversations he had had at some point in the past. I remember his once telling the Secretary of the Transportation at substantial length about new developments in environmentally friendly concrete and how that needed to be considered. President Obama’s approach was a more sharply focused approach.
Conversations with Bill Kristol: Larry Summers
"He is thoroughly predictable in having gone through every piece of paper that he gets,” said Tom Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser from 2010 to 2013. “You’ll come in in the morning, it will be there: questions, notes, decisions.”
"Obama After Dark: The Precious Hours Alone"
You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” The self-discipline he believes is required to do the job well comes at a high price. “You can’t wander around,” he said. “It’s much harder to be surprised. You don’t have those moments of serendipity. You don’t bump into a friend in a restaurant you haven’t seen in years. The loss of anonymity and the loss of surprise is an unnatural state. You adapt to it, but you don’t get used to it—at least I don’t.”
"Obama's Way" by Michael Lewis
Standing in his favorite classroom in the austere main building, sharp-witted students looming above him, Mr. Obama refined his public speaking style, his debating abilities, his beliefs.

“He tested his ideas in classrooms,” said Dennis Hutchinson, a colleague. Every seminar hour brought a new round of, “Is affirmative action justified? Under what circumstances?” as Mr. Hutchinson put it.
"Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Slightly Apart"

Addendum: Letters to President Obama + Obama's class Current Issues in Racism and the Law ("Taking Professor Obama's Class") + "Breaking the War Mentality" by Barack Obama (1983)


random said...

amazing stuff, and here we are, not even sure is this one can even read