Inconceivable! [or not]

One of the famous and favorite moments in The Princess Bride is when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Watching the Yelling Shows this morning, I kept replaying Inigo’s line in my head.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I guess Inigo was wondering: Is it a misuse of language? A misunderstanding of what’s actually happening? Or, simply, wishful thinking? But ultimately the why doesn’t matter. If you don’t recognize the reality, you’re in trouble.

I was thinking about this as the guest on the show, in an ominously warning voice, said that people need to understand that Donald Trump is not a Republican, and he does not represent what the Party stands for (he said lots of other stuff, too, but that’s not germane here).

I think that this is the wrong argument.

What if people don’t care that he’s not a Republican? What if THEY are not Republicans, too? [There is a parallel argument on the Democratic side that Senator Sanders is NOT a Democrat, and my thinkings here apply to both parties.]

Earlier this week, Clay Shirky who, by the way, is a much better thinker than DocThink, wrote a tweetstorm outlining a theory of the redundancy of political parties in a networked world. He offers that parties used to be required to access media, to access donors and to access voters through organizing. He traces the arc of a scythe cutting down this syndicate starting with Ross Perot through Howard Dean and Obama for America. He posits that both parties are seeing an internal insurgency where “the people,” or at least a passionate sector of “the people,” are hijacking the party regulars.

I’m not sure that’s exactly right.* I think that we are seeing the hijacking of the parties’ infrastructure for people who may or may not be party members. It could be that the outsiders are not growing the party as much as using the party. They are disruptors.

Conventional wisdom sided against any 3rd or 4th party in the U.S. because of the infrastructure requirements to gain public office. It’s the party apparatus in each state that organizes and hosts primaries. The parties own the statewide infrastructure, the hosting of caucuses and elections, the rules, the timelines and the costs. They own donor lists and vendors who do polling and pipe and drape.

Smart outsider candidates are able to use this structure to launch their own campaigns with enough hat-tipping to the “party,” as long as they have followers. They can build their own followers

  • by addressing them DIRECTLY on social media and use this to pressure and gain earned media,
  • by raising money from them DIRECTLY online, and
  • by getting their names and emails and Facebook likes and Twitter follows to call on them DIRECTLY as well as ask them to call on each other when it’s time to GOTV.

We might be seeing a disruption on the scale of Amazon for commerce, Uber for transportation, Airbnb for lodging or Facebook for communications.

It makes me think, too, about another Clay. Clay Christensen wrote the Innovator’s Dilemma. I’m still working my brain through this but I think I’ll throw it out to see if it’s a useful model to apply. Christensen says*

  • Companies innovate faster than their customers’ needs evolve and eventually produce products that are actually too sophisticated, too expensive, and too complicated for many customers.
  • Companies pursue these “sustaining innovations” at the higher tiers of their markets because that’s what made them successful– charging the highest prices to their most demanding and sophisticated customers at the top of the market.
  • This leaves a gap at the bottom of the market for competitors to emerge and go after smaller markets with simpler products that might not be attractive to the “establishment” organization.
  • See a full and smarter version here.

So the people who were in the market, but couldn’t afford the goods are happy with a cheaper, less feature-rich version that they can have. Or maybe they don’t see themselves as customers of the Party as it is, and are open to an offering that better meets their beliefs.

But what about the Brand value of the Parties. Parties still offer a shorthand to understand where a candidate stands. I did voter studies in the 80’s. I know about party affiliation. But I also know about brands. So I’ll offer one thought. How does that brand–of establishment political parties–make people who are angry and left out feel?

The first Clay put out a stat that floored me. There are 150 million registered voters in the U.S. That would be considered a MEDIUM-sized group on Facebook. Shirky said, “All voters’ used to be a big number. Now it’s less than 10 percent of Facebook’s audience.”


in·con·ceiv·a·bleˌ inkənˈsēvəb(ə)l/adjective
     1. not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable.

* Apologies for my reductionist parsing of both Clays’ arguments. I’m just trying this out, Loyal Reader. I suggest you read them both and help me hone my Thinkings.