Try Looking Outside to Solve the Problems Inside

Quick – who recently said this in reference to his organization’s social media efforts?

“…if our consumers are younger, and they love video games, and they have shorter attention spans, and they love interactivity, and they love social media, and everyone blogs, and everyone’s on Facebook, why wouldn’t we put ourselves right in the middle of that?”

What social media or Government 2.0 champion could have said this? Could it have been Federal CIO Vivek Kundra? Maybe Director, New Media and Citizen Engagement at GSA, Bev Godwin? Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Price Floyd?

Nope. Try Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals. In this week’s Washington Post, Leonsis discusses why the team is aggressively using social media to engage with their fans and the potential impact that social media can have on his team and on the sport. Sound familiar? Sound anything like what us in the Gov 2.0 and social media communities have been telling our bosses and clients for years now?

Leonsis goes on to say that, “what’s unique and different about us is that most organizations are managed [with the thinking], ‘We’re bricks and mortar, we’re buildings, and we have this Web operation beside us,'” Leonsis said. “We’re kind of different. We look at the Web as being our basic power plant, kind of like electricity, so the Web and communicating in this fashion is second nature to us now. It’s not like we go brochure, television, mail. It’s Web, and then everything else. It’s social media first, and everything else.”

Hmmmm…sounds like his perspective, experience, and business acumen would be a valuable addition to the Gov 2.0 conversation, don’t you think?

I recently read a fascinating article in the latest edition of Fast Company – “A Problem Solver’s Guide to Copycatting.” This article argues that instead of solving our toughest problems through brainstorming or consulting with experts, we should start looking for analogues outside our industry because someone (or some thing) has probably already solved our problem. For example (from the Fast Company article),

“In 1989, the pilots of the Exxon Valdez ran it into Bligh Reef, spilling enough oil to cover 11,000 square miles of ocean. To finish this cleanup job, you’d have to clear an area the size of Walt Disney World Resort every week for about five years. One major obstacle was that the oil and water tended to freeze together, making the oil harder to skim off. This problem defied engineers for years until a man named John Davis, who had no experience in the oil industry, solved it. In 2007, he proposed using a construction tool that vibrates cement to keep it in liquid form as it pours. Presto!”

This methodology, this thinking, that someone who has absolutely no experience with or knowledge of your organization might be able to solve a problem that your top domain experts haven’t been able to crack is a totally foreign concept to most organizations, especially those within the government. What if instead of talking with the Gov 2.0 “experts,” we started getting more people from outside of Government involved in Gov 2.0? Think about the value that Craig Newmark has brought to the Gov 2.0 discussion. Or Tim O’Reilly.

The social media community seems to have realized the value these outsider perspectives can bring – just last year I attended conferences featuring Jermaine Dupri, Brooke Burke, and Jalen Rose. This year, Gov 2.0 events like Gov 2.0 LA reached out to Hollywood to get that perspective and author/entrepreneur/professional keynoter Gary Vaynerchuk will be speaking at this year’s Gov 2.0 Expo. Getting these influencers involved as speakers is a great start, but we need to achieve more consistent engagement beyond just singular events.

What if the next Director of New Media and Web Communications for DHS was someone like Mike DiLorenzo, Director of Corporate Communications for the NHL? What if we talked with some behavior modification psychologists about the best way to change people’s behavior from one of “need to know” to “need to share?” What if we studied Native American tribes to learn more about how they build and maintain a unique culture even in the face of extreme changes?

While government may be unique, the problems we’re facing aren’t. The challenge shouldn’t be in solving them, but rather, in finding out who or what has solved them already.

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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  • Wow, great insight! You’re completely right, these problems aren’t new. It’s the same sort of problems that companies and organizations and governments have had for decades. It’s just communicating that back to our government now that’s the tricky part!

    Thanks for linking, I’ve got your blog in my Reader and I’ll be reading!

  • Wow, great insight! You’re completely right, these problems aren’t new. It’s the same sort of problems that companies and organizations and governments have had for decades. It’s just communicating that back to our government now that’s the tricky part!

    Thanks for linking, I’ve got your blog in my Reader and I’ll be reading!

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  • Shala Byers

    Steve, you make some great points here. It doesn’t surprise me that commercial industry is yet again leading the charge in innovation. What does surprise me is that government has started to catch up with these trends at a faster pace than they have previously (go Gov 2.0!). In general, if government can ride the coattails of the strategic success stories of industry they will be setting themselves up for greatness!

  • Shala Byers

    Steve, you make some great points here. It doesn’t surprise me that commercial industry is yet again leading the charge in innovation. What does surprise me is that government has started to catch up with these trends at a faster pace than they have previously (go Gov 2.0!). In general, if government can ride the coattails of the strategic success stories of industry they will be setting themselves up for greatness!

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  • Steve,

    As always, great insight and I very much support the idea of looking outside for fresh perspective and insight. One idea that I would throw on the table is to look on the outside not just for top-down leadership but also for bottom-up input and participation. Two quick examples come to mind. One – I would really like to see much greater collaboration between state/ local/ municipal government and federal government in the social media space. Not only are there some great, innovative leaders at the local level but these organizations will have a naturally much closer connection to the people in their neighborhoods and in their networks. Second – I would love to find ways to engage the public in the creation and brainstorming of outreach campaigns. Why not find ways to ask people more directly how we can most effectively interact with them via social platforms? If we can find ways to engage from the very beginning, we will be much more likely to find champions that can help spread the word and should be able to develop more effective campaigns that will really resonate with people.

  • Steve,

    As always, great insight and I very much support the idea of looking outside for fresh perspective and insight. One idea that I would throw on the table is to look on the outside not just for top-down leadership but also for bottom-up input and participation. Two quick examples come to mind. One – I would really like to see much greater collaboration between state/ local/ municipal government and federal government in the social media space. Not only are there some great, innovative leaders at the local level but these organizations will have a naturally much closer connection to the people in their neighborhoods and in their networks. Second – I would love to find ways to engage the public in the creation and brainstorming of outreach campaigns. Why not find ways to ask people more directly how we can most effectively interact with them via social platforms? If we can find ways to engage from the very beginning, we will be much more likely to find champions that can help spread the word and should be able to develop more effective campaigns that will really resonate with people.

  • Great points Andrew – I think we’re starting to see more of the federal/state/local/municipal collaboration as things like Manor Labs, the DC gov stuff, and the SF open source initiatives have gotten more attention. I think we’re already moving in that direction, but yes, there’s a lot more that could be done.

  • Great points Andrew – I think we’re starting to see more of the federal/state/local/municipal collaboration as things like Manor Labs, the DC gov stuff, and the SF open source initiatives have gotten more attention. I think we’re already moving in that direction, but yes, there’s a lot more that could be done.

  • Kirsten Reed

    Steve,
    Great post! Really like the point you make about how someone who has no idea/experience with an organization can help solve a problem. Although it’s not quite the same analogy it reminds me of how Booz Allen hires an outside strategic communications firm (even though they have an excellent SC team)to craft comms strategies for things like the split between govt/commerical and initiatives like hoteling. Sometimes when you’re inside of an organization for too long you lose the fresh perspective or look at problems from the same angle. I think the military is smart to only allow people at assignments for limited time, allowing for “outsiders” to come in to a command and bring new insights/ideas

  • Kirsten Reed

    Steve,
    Great post! Really like the point you make about how someone who has no idea/experience with an organization can help solve a problem. Although it’s not quite the same analogy it reminds me of how Booz Allen hires an outside strategic communications firm (even though they have an excellent SC team)to craft comms strategies for things like the split between govt/commerical and initiatives like hoteling. Sometimes when you’re inside of an organization for too long you lose the fresh perspective or look at problems from the same angle. I think the military is smart to only allow people at assignments for limited time, allowing for “outsiders” to come in to a command and bring new insights/ideas

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  • The idea that outsiders can often solve/bring essential expertise to problems is certainly borne out by the literature on creativity and innovation- applying knowledge across domains is at the core of most innovation in fact. What comes to mind is how award winning make-up artists contributed critically to 3M’s next-generation surgical anti-septic sheeting.

    Do you think that maybe consulting firms like BAH, which have worked with the government for decades, may be too “embedded” now in old Gov 1.0 culture to provide the outside perspective that they have historically?

  • The idea that outsiders can often solve/bring essential expertise to problems is certainly borne out by the literature on creativity and innovation- applying knowledge across domains is at the core of most innovation in fact. What comes to mind is how award winning make-up artists contributed critically to 3M’s next-generation surgical anti-septic sheeting.

    Do you think that maybe consulting firms like BAH, which have worked with the government for decades, may be too “embedded” now in old Gov 1.0 culture to provide the outside perspective that they have historically?

  • I think we have to have a delicate balance between the old guard of Gov 1.0 and the new, innovative, Gov 2.0 way of thinking. We need to both understand their current challenges and lead the way. If we only focus on the innovative, we often miss the day-to-day challenges of helping our clients meet their mission. I think people like me though, do need to continue to talk with people outside the DC Gov 2.0 Echo Chamber though so that we remain innovative, instead of just falling into the same old same old.

  • I think we have to have a delicate balance between the old guard of Gov 1.0 and the new, innovative, Gov 2.0 way of thinking. We need to both understand their current challenges and lead the way. If we only focus on the innovative, we often miss the day-to-day challenges of helping our clients meet their mission. I think people like me though, do need to continue to talk with people outside the DC Gov 2.0 Echo Chamber though so that we remain innovative, instead of just falling into the same old same old.

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