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A Promised Land

A Promised Land

The book I just completed. This one was hard to complete, but an interesting read nevertheless. The book is more than 29 hours (took me more than a month to complete). Also a lot of characters in the book are complete strangers. Wish I knew a little more about American politics. Three things I take away from this book

Hard problems don’t have a perfect answer

At the start of the his presidential experience, Obama felt that he is constantly dealing with only hard problems. This is the excerpt from the book.

My emphasis on process was born of necessity. What I was quickly discovering about the presidency was that no problem that landed on my desk, foreign or domestic, had a clean, 100 percent solution. If it had, someone else down the chain of command would have solved it already. Instead, I was constantly dealing with probabilities: a 70 percent chance, say, that a decision to do nothing would end in disaster; a 55 percent chance that this approach versus that one might solve the problem (with a 0 percent chance that it would work out exactly as intended); a 30 percent chance that whatever we chose wouldn’t work at all, along with a 15 percent chance that it would make the problem worse.

In such circumstances, chasing after the perfect solution led to paralysis. On the other hand, going with your gut too often meant letting preconceived notions or the path of least political resistance guide a decision—with cherry- picked facts used to justify it. But with a sound process—one in which I was able to empty out my ego and really listen, following the facts and logic as best I could and considering them alongside my goals and my principles—I realized I could make tough decisions and still sleep easy at night, knowing at a minimum that no one in my position, given the same information, could have made the decision any better.

This one is so close to heart. There were so many decisions we could’ve taken in the past, if only we realized that there is no perfect solution. Searching for the perfect one ended up in the paralysis state for a long long time. I wish I had known this one much earlier and could’ve saved a ton of time in a lot of decisions.

Age doesn’t change the person from inside

The following is an excerpt from his grandmother to him when she found it hard to walk for long stretches because of her back problems.

“The thing about getting old, Bar,” Toot had told me, “is that you’re the same person inside.” I remember her eyes studying me through her thick bifocals, as if to make sure I was paying attention. “You’re trapped in this doggone contraption that starts falling apart. But it’s still you. You understand?”

Again, another one which is close to heart. It is usually easy to believe we could still do things we are used to do years ago. For example, in my case, I could work for 18 hours a day and still be 100% present on the next day. Right now, mentally I feel I could do that, but when I actually try that, I know 14 hours is the ceiling if I don’t want to look like a zombie the next day.

Even the POTUS needs to hustle to get things done.

The following excerpt is when all the national leaders were in a environment conference and the leader of China (Wen) was avoiding a meeting with Obama. He had to take a few extreme steps to make sure he can meet Wen and get him to agree on taking right steps towards the environment.

I looked at my watch. “What time’s my follow-up meeting with Wen?”

“Well, boss, that’s the other problem,” Marvin said. “We can’t find him.” He explained that when staffers had reached out to their Chinese counterparts, they’d been told that Wen was already on his way to the airport. There were rumors that he was actually still in the building, in a meeting with the other leaders who’d been pushing back against having their emissions monitored, but we weren’t able to confirm it.

“So you’re saying he’s ducking me.”

“We got folks out looking.”

A few minutes later, Marvin came back in to tell us that Wen and the leaders of Brazil, India, and South Africa had been spotted in a conference room a few levels up.

“All right, then,” I said. I turned to Hillary. “When’s the last time you crashed a party?”

She laughed. “It’s been a while,” she said, looking like the straitlaced kid who’s decided to throw caution to the wind.

With a gaggle of staffers and Secret Service agents hustling behind us, we made our way upstairs. At the end of a long corridor, we found what we were looking for: a room with glass walls, just large enough to hold a conference table, around which sat Premier Wen, Prime Minister Singh, and Presidents Lula and Zuma, along with a few of their ministers. The Chinese security team began moving forward to intercept us, hands held up as if ordering us to stop, but realizing who we were, they hesitated. With a smile and a nod, Hillary and I strolled past and entered the room, leaving a fairly noisy tussle between security details and the staffers in our wake.

“You ready for me, Wen?” I called out, watching the Chinese leader’s face drop in surprise. I then walked around the table to shake each of their hands. “Gentlemen! I’ve been looking everywhere for you. How about we see if we can do a deal?”

Before anybody could object, I grabbed an empty chair and sat down. Across the table, Wen and Singh remained impassive, while Lula and Zuma looked sheepishly down at the papers in front of them. I explained that I had just met with the Europeans and that they were prepared to accept our proposed interim agreement if the group present would support language ensuring a credible mechanism to independently verify that countries were meeting their greenhouse gas reduction commitments.

This is one place where my respect for Obama went 10X. Among all the bold decisions he took to fix the financial crisis, healthcare and still this tops the list. Still unbelievable. I’ve seen the kind of hustle (aka jugaad) in many folks around me, but seeing this from the president of a country is unbelievable.

Overall, a great book. Something I wish to read sometime again later. I think this is one of the books when I read later, might give a whole new perspective. I’m still not yet ready for this book I guess.

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