One of the main criticisms that Romney and the republicans level at President Obama is that while he may be a likable figure (they can read the opinion polls about that) he was just not competent in his first term and struggled to get anything accomplished. Setting aside the fact that Obama did push major health care legislation through, which no other democrat before him was able to do (not for lack of trying), or the fact that republicans with their obstructionism have preferred to compete rather than cooperate (a cheating strategy that must be punished in terms of game theory), this "Obama is ineffective" line of attack reminds me of a theory from change management that I used to work with and think is important to consider. The theory goes something like this:
In any organization, there are two ways you might look at how you are acting. You can decide if you are are doing the right thing or the wrong thing, and you can determine if you are performing well or performing poorly. If you were to set up these options in a typical 2x2 matrix, you would get something that looks like this:
This change management story is important for two reasons. One, it gives you an idea of the path it takes to actually get from where you are to where you want to be. This is never an easy one-step process, and this 2x2 matrix shows you why. Secondly, this story gives you some comfort when you are in the middle of a turnaround. Just as you often hear in sports, you sometimes have to "get worse before things get better." Things may get uncomfortable in the middle of a turnaround, people may disagree vehemently over the change in direction, but this is a necessary part of getting to the right end.
Does this story remind you of what we are seeing in the Obama presidency? By the end of the Bush presidency, America was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month, the economy was collapsing, we were in two wars abroad, we had lowered taxes on the rich, income inequality was rising, nearly 50 million americans were medically uninsured, environmental regulations were being lifted, automobile fuel efficiency was actually getting worse - we were an organization headed in the wrong direction, and in many ways, we were going there as fast as we could. Now, we are turning that around. Did anyone expect that to be painless? Here is one way you could characterize the last several years of government under the leadership of Bush and Obama: