President-elect Obama is the first politician use the power of the network to create an edge-based organization -- and thereby raise more money than any politician in history and sweep 364 electoral votes. No presidential campaign will be the same again. On this site, both John Quelch and Umair Haque briefly note that his campaign enabled self-organization, but I believe an edge-based organization means much more than simple self-organization - and its concepts are relevant to all companies.
What does it mean to have an edge-based organization? It means that everyone has situational awareness, skills to take action, shared values, and decision rights to empower the edge to take action (My thanks to my friends John Henderson and John Clippinger who have deeply influenced my thinking on this topic.) Obama's campaign did all of these.
Obama used the internet to endow the very edges of his organization with all the tools to self-organize, to get out the message with sophisticated media. He even armed them with an Apple iPhone application that allowed you to compare your address book to the centralized Obama campaign phone logs and see if there was someone you knew who needed to be called by you - not the machine - to support Obama. (See also my earlier blog post on Obama's use of the network compared to Hillary Clinton's.)
Of course, as the pundits note, the economy was a huge factor, but it was the edge-based organization that turned those worries into action. The Obama campaign gave people constant updates on the issues and progress in individual states - complete situational awareness. By giving the tools to the edge to organize gatherings, mailings, information, and coordination, they gave out "decision rights" that normally would have been kept closer to the campaign staff. Of course, those at the "edge" of the fight for Obama had the same shared values as those "inside."
For the past three decades the military has been working to create an edge-based organization because it is more nimble and effective. It takes great training, shared beliefs, great technology, and leadership with a whole new level of delegation. I think the most interesting question now, which was raised by a commentator on Quelch's article, is how will President Obama use the edge-based organization to govern, not just campaign?
My bet is he will do with the edge-based organization what Franklin D. Roosevelt did with the radio - reinvent it to create a whole new method of governance. He will go direct to the people via all relevant media; he will organize by issue; he will create a new form of direct democracy which will change the balance of power between the executive and the legislative branches of government.
All businesses can learn from watching these developments because everyone's market is alive with passion, desires, and ideas. But only the edge-based organizations can see the opportunities and move quickly enough to meet the challenges.
(This post is also listed at Harvard Business School's site.)