Reading the Situation Room photo with startup eyes

5680724572_ab0f11237a_oGuest Commentary: Blogging Tuesday about the already famous White House photo of the Situation Room during the bin Laden operation, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic writes:

“[T]he President seems so small and peripheral to the action. He is hunched down, seated on the margins of the meeting, seemingly trying not to take up space. It appears as if he couldn’t even find a place to put his jacket.”

I agree with the conclusion Goldberg eventually draws — that Obama is confident and in control — but I approach and read the surface of the photo very differently.

For me, the visual vocabulary of the photo is that of a conference room for an emerging tech company. In that environment, it’s easy to spot Obama as the CEO.

Now, this is not your hip Pioneer Square or downtown San Francisco social media startup. The walls and the furniture bespeak suburban office park. “Class A” space, admittedly, though still the kind of digs that won’t sport a board room with high ceilings or old world affectations.

The President’s natural chair, to be sure, is at the head of the table. But the narrative logic of the picture suggests the President, like any smart, practical CEO, has pulled in a more technical person to run the demo, or the video conference, or whatever it is that’s cutting edge and refuses to work for normal mortals. In the meantime, he’s parked himself temporarily in the next nearest chair.

The tech guy in the President’s story is a brigadier general, which would mean he’s pulled the CTO (about the right military-to-tech-co correlation) to drive the demo.

5680161629_5e4803630f_oAs for not removing his jacket: for Goldberg, this signals self-effacement; to me, it means he’s coming or going or reserving his options to do either. (We can cheat, too, and look at another White House photo in the stream which suggests both that (a) the President at another point claims his chair, and (b) he decides to take off his jacket and settle in.)

When the President visited Facebook last month, I remarked that he carried himself like a natural tech company CEO. Well, here’s more evidence. That’s what he’s going to do, post-presidency. You heard it here first.

Attorney William Carleton is a member of McNaul Ebel Nawrot & Helgren PLLC, a Seattle law firm. He works with startups and emerging tech companies, their founders and investors. He posts regularly about tech-related legal issues on his blog, where this post first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @wac6.

More by William Carleton

  • Anonymous

    Here’s what Obama did that is exactly unlike a tech CEO: he took all the credit. In his speech announcing the hit, what struck me was the large number of “I”s — I met with my security team repeatedly, I determined there was enough information, etc.

    Any tech CEO who lacks humility in this way and sees the organziations achievement as all about him will quickly lose his team. Politics and tech startups are very different in this way.

    • http://www.wac6.typepad.com William Carleton

      Good point.

      I suppose the flip side of taking all the credit is bearing all the responsibility. In this particular case, it sounds like it was ultimately up to the President to authorize the killing of bin Laden.

    • Mark B

      @Peter__H:disqus Obama’s statement is nearly 1400 words. By my count, he uses the word “I” a total of ten times. He uses “me” twice and “my” three times. By contrast he uses the word “we” 37 times and the word “our” 47 times. When he uses “I” it seems appropriate to me–it is when he is talking about what he specifically did. But the repeated references to what others did or what the nation as a whole has done, in my reading, does not support the claim that he “took all the credit.” For example, the first “I” is Obama saying he is reporting ”
      @font-face {
      font-family: “Times New Roman”;
      }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }

      the United States has
      conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden.” Not “I”–the United States. We. Based on what you’re saying, I’d say Bill is right.

  • keeping_it_real

    Comparing the situation room at the white house with a high tech startup is akin to comparing how I mow my lawn to how they do it at Fenway. You might think you know what it’s like but you will never know the energy and pressure riveting through every soul in there. That was no video game on Sunday…

    • http://www.wac6.typepad.com William Carleton

      I imagine
      it’s addictive. Which in part is why I say post-Presidency Obama will do
      something meaningful, like lead a startup.

      • E Pluribus Unum

        I’m not going to hold my breathe until he does. Although I suspect he will have the opportunity to do something else coming up on Jan 20, 2013. He looks to me like a benchwarmer in that photograph. You can contrive all the alternative scenarios you like, but the photo says it all. Obama was never in charge of this operation. Leon Panetta and Hillary more likely made it happen. And speaking of Hillary, I think any self respecting man would have made the same excuse she did for her appearance.

        If you are going to present alternative explanations for the obvious, I submit that they ALL look like they are seeing for the first time in their pathetic lives what real men look like doing something only real men do
        .