Roger L Martin, Board Member, Skoll Foundation addressed the topic of “The Power Paradox.” His theme was that great leaders harness the tension between what look like two polar opposites and are able to craft a solution. They avoid polarization. He contrasted the problem-framing perspectives of George Bush and Barak Obama. In the aftermath of 9-11 Bush famously stated the either countries are supportive of the US or they are with the terrorists. The was no middle way in Bush’s view. Martin, a Canadian, noted the obvious folly of such a juxtaposition. Martin noted that his country has an extensive trading relationship with the US, but still decided not to support the US in its war against Iraq. Obama, by contrast, signaled in his election victory speech that he would take a fresh approach to the understanding of world issues.
Obama’s approach was to reject the notion that the security concerns of the US and the pursuit of high ideals are opposites. Instead, there is a middle ground with provides the means to address problems. In short, the perception of issues in terms of extremes was limiting. Martin interpretation of Obama’s approach, which he stated was the major take-away for the evening, is that people must reject the notion that existing models equal reality. Instead the existing models are only the best construction designed thus far; they are clues to building a better model. Great leaders, whether politicians such as Obama or social entrepreneurs sitting in the audience, are those who can devise new models and with them a new and better reality.