Tag Archives: gov20

Entrepreneurs: Celebrated in the Private Sector, Hidden in Government

Webster’s Dictionary defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. It’s the “American dream” – owning your business, being your own boss, creating and growing something new and doing it better than anyone else. Kids are encouraged to dream big, to innovate, to invent, and to be ambitious. Silicon Valley has been built on the backs of these risk-taking entrepreneurs.

  • Facebook, the behemoth of a social network with 500 million worldwide users, was founded by a college student and his buddies.
  • Google, the search engine that processes  more than a billion searches a day, was founded by two graduate students.
  • Apple, the ubiquitous electronics company behind the iPhones and iPods we all carry around with us, was started by three guys building computers in their basement.
  • eBay, the most successful online auction site in the world, was started when someone bought computer programmer Pierre Omidyar‘s broken laser pointer on his personal auction site.

Read Fast Company. Read Wired. Read Inc. It’s not hard to find hundreds more stories just like these  – entrepreneurial people who have an idea, take a risk and build a business to scale that idea to the public.  Most of these ideas flame out, some become massive successes, but almost all will, at some point, go back to the drawing board and try to do it all again. There’s no shortage of opportunities to fix something or improve on something else, and the beautiful thing about America is that there will always be someone, somewhere, thinking of a way to fix it.

As this year’s Gov 2.0 Summit and Gov 2.0 Expo have shown, this spirit of entrepreneurship has spread to the DC area as well, prompting some to ask if DC can become the next Silicon Valley and Mark Drapeau to wonder about the long-term vision for for open government entrepreneurship. However, what struck me as I read through Mark’s article and GovFresh’s “10 Entrepreneurs Changing the Way Government Works” was they they focused entirely on people working in the private sector. Can civil servants not be entrepreneurs as well?

“One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

Does this not apply to those working IN government too? While they may not be entrepreneurs in the traditional sense, the spirit of entrepreneurship is certainly alive and well among those in the federal, state, and local government.  Unfortunately, while entrepreneurs who identify problems, take risks, and build businesses are celebrated and featured in glowing articles in magazines, those in the government who identify problems, take risks, and drive innovative changes usually toil in virtual obscurity at best, or are reprimanded at worst.

Dilbert.com

True open government entrepreneurship isn’t just about open data or mashups or social networking platforms or DC start-ups. It’s about those civil servants who organize, manage, and assume the risks of changing the way our government works. It’s about those analysts who create a platform that changes the way intelligence analysis is done. It’s about two State Department staffers fundamentally changing how diplomacy works.  Just because they’re not starting a business doesn’t make them any less of an entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, most civil servant entrepreneurs are hidden away from public view and recognition. For every Alec Ross and Sean Dennehy, there are ten other entrepreneurs who instead of being celebrated for their ambition, are penalized for their ambitions. Rather than New York Times articles or speaking slots at O’Reilly conferences, civil servant entrepreneurs instead hear:

  • “You can’t talk directly to the Director – you’re not high enough on the totem pole”
  • “That’s something that will have to be decided above your pay grade”
  • “Make sure you get approval from public affairs before you talk about that. And oh by the way, that process could take 1-2 weeks.”
  • “That’s not your job – let so-and-so deal with that”
  • “Sure, we might become more efficient, but that means we may also lose 2-3 billets and/or funding”
  • “According to policy X, that’s not allowed”

The long-term success of open government entrepreneurship lies not with more open government business models from the private sector, but within the government itself. We must do a better job of creating an environment where innovation and entrepreneurship is encouraged and rewarded. Government isn’t lacking for entrepreneurship opportunities, ideas, or ambitious people – it’s lacking the processes to do something with those ideas and people. Instead of relying on open government entrepreneurs in the public sector, let’s do a better job of encouraging and empowering the entrepreneurs within.

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What Can the Government Learn From a $100,000 Salt & Pepper Shaker?

I finally got around to reading “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch.  If you’re not familiar with Randy’s story, read about it here or watch the video below.  I highly recommend this if you’re about to have a child,  already a parent, if you’re a teacher, or if in any way, you’re responsible for the welfare of someone else – it’s a fantastic reminder to focus on what matters.  There’s a ton of great lessons in this book, but as I was reading it, one story in particular stuck out – the $100,000 Salt & Pepper Shaker.  This story resonated with me because it not only made me think of all the companies and brands that have earned my loyalty over the years, but also of the the interactions that I have had with our government, be it at the Post Office, at the DMV, as the Social Security Administration, the IRS, etc.

Here’s the summary of Randy’s story –

When Randy was 12, he was walking around Disney World with his sister. He and his sister wanted to thank their parents for the vacation so they pooled their money together to purchase ceramic salt & pepper shakers as gifts. Unfortunately, in his excitement to be at Disney World and to give his parents the gift, young Randy drops them, shattering both. Someone saw this incident and suggested that he take them back to the store and ask for a replacement. This was a foreign concept to Randy – why would they replace them? He broke them. It was his fault.  Nevertheless, he went back to the store and explained what happened. To Randy and his sister’s surprise, the Disney store manager not only replaced the salt & pepper shakers free of charge, he apologized for not wrapping them up well enough!

Years later, Randy looks back at that day and sees the beginning of a love affair with Disney that has gone on for decades. You see, that one seemingly insignificant gesture made Randy and his parents see Disney on a whole new level, and as a result, they have enthusiastically supported the Disney brand to the tune of more than $100,000 in tickets, food, and souvenirs.

At the end of this chapter of the book, Randy tells the story of how he still serves as a consultant to Disney and at the end of his meetings, he ends by asking,

“If I sent a child into one of your stores with a broken salt and pepper shaker today, would your policies allow your workers to be kind enough to replace it?

The executives “squirm at the question” because they know the answer is “probably not.”

We all have stories like this – the mechanic you still go to because he corrected that other mechanic’s mistake for free; the barber who, upon finding out that you didn’t have enough cash to pay him after cutting your hair told you “not to worry about it because you’ll pay him next time;” the guy at Best Buy who took 20 minutes out of his day to answer every single question about plasma vs. LCD TVs that you had.

Now, can you think of a story like that involving a government institution?  If you are a civil service employee, how would you answer the question? Are your organization’s policies such that you would be able to spend ten extra minutes with a heartbroken customer to fix their problem?

If I were the head of a government agency, I would bring in the folks from Disney to talk to all of my managers and public-facing employees about the importance of customer service in government. A government agency that uses solid change management techniques to teach every employee to truly embrace principles like “the front line is the bottom line,” and “Two Ears, two eyes and one mouth, use them in that ratio” would do more to bring about “Government 2.0 than any new policy, memo, or technology platform could ever do.

We talk a lot about Government 2.0 being citizen-centric, but that’s not going to happen via some technology platform or memo. That’s going to happen when we make the citizen our customer, our bottom line and we extend that to include both online and offline interactions. There’s one phrase that Walt Disney used as the key to Disney’s customer service program – “exceed guests’ expectations.”

Where in your agency’s mission mission does it say that you will try to “exceed citizens’ expectations?

Watch the full video of Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” below.

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Six Villains of Gov 2.0

I recently came across this funny (and too true) post by Todd Heim on social media villains that piqued both my long-time interest in super-heroes and super-villains and all things Government 2.0 too.  While we pump up the Gov 2.0 Heroes (and even had an entire Day dedicated to them), and we hold conferences to highlight the work done by these heroes, I haven’t seen the opposite side get its due.  Well, I’d like to dedicate this post to the people who make government innovation so difficult, the people who have stood in our way for years, the people who have been classified as hurdles, obstacles, and barriers – the Villains of Gov 2.0.

Dr. Closed Mind

Image courtesy of Flickr user gregmote

“Yeah, that’s a great idea, but we don’t have time for that – just focus on doing your job!”

Description: Dr. Closed Mind has the ability make even the most new and innovative ideas seem like frivolous wastes of time.  He thrives on doing things his way because that’s “the way they’ve always done.” By relying on the force of inertia and his extreme stubbornness, he’s able to simultaneously frustrate his numerous adversaries as well as advance his own career.  Dr. Closed Mind is focused on checking off his task list and will aggressively squash any attempt to disrupt that routine.

Strengths: Able to avoid changing his routine for years on end; leverages allies in the legal and IT security departments to maintain the status quo; super-human ability to make stagnation appear to seem like laser-like focus.

Weaknesses: Transparency.  By exposing the outdated and often inefficient methods of Dr. Closed Mind to more people, you can help shine a light on the work of Dr. Closed Mind and force his leadership to ask him the often-deadly question of “why aren’t we doing it like this instead?”

The Downer

“Sure, it’d be great to do that, but unfortunately, we’re not allowed. I hate working here :(“

Description: The Downer is a deceptively strong villain, capable of destroying the morale of even the strongest teams.  Through near constant talk of policies, regulations, and costs, The Downer calls attention to every possible reason why an idea can’t and won’t work, yet is unable to see the potential benefits.  Changing policies, getting buy-in, and taking risks

Strengths: Able to destroy morale with a single agenda item; has the uncanny ability to rattle off the most obscure policies and regulations; able to turn “quick wins” into insignificant activities that will never amount to anything;

Weaknesses: Change. By highlighting positive changes that have occurred, The Downer’s seemingly immense pessimism can be slowly chipped away and he starts to see that things can change.

The Money-Monger

“I’ve had Ashton Kutcher retweet me – I can show you how to do that too!”

Description: Seeing business development opportunities wherever he goes, the Money-Monger (also known by the aliases “Social Media Ninja” and “Social Media Guru”) has a Red Bull-fueled energy for telling everyone who will listen how he can help them use social media…for a price.  He will probably talk about how to increase your Twitter followers, guarantee that he can create “viral videos,” and tell you how easy social media is.

Strengths: Master of ulterior motives.  Able to see a business opportunity where no one ever had before.  Immune to common social etiquette, meaningful relationships, and small talk.  Has mastered the ability to create 50 slide presentations without one bit of actual thought on any of the slides.

Weaknesses: Strategy.  Weaken the Money-Monger’s defenses by asking him how he measures the effectiveness of his tactics that does NOT involve the number of friends, fans, or followers.  Force the Money-Monger to show how social media will help accomplish your agency’s mission.

Captain Conservative

Courtesy of Flickr User ewen and donabel

“This sounds like a great idea, but let’s make sure that we circulate it with everyone and get their buy-in first.”

Description: Captain Conservative is often both a villain and an ally of the Gov 2.0 Heroes. While Captain Conservative is often supportive of the Gov 2.0 Heroes, he lives by the mantra of “always ask for permission first or you may get fired.”  He’s been brainwashed by two of his former mentors, Dr. Closed Mind and The Downer, who have unfortunately, scrambled his brain.  While his intentions are good, the mental scars of his former mentors still appear strong.

Strengths: Through his sheer likability, Captain Conservative is often able to embed himself into teams early on, only to systematically dismantle them through long, prolonged review and approval processes.  He often leaves no visible traces of the damage he causes and often emerges from the failed project unscathed.

Weaknesses: Top Cover.  By securing the approval of people located above Captain Conservative on the org chart, you can mitigate his fear of doing something wrong and getting in trouble for it.

The Silo

“We’d love to be more collaborative…as long as no one outside of my team can get in and mess with our stuff.”

Description: One of the more powerful Gov 2.0 villains, The Silo is known for his ability to protect sandboxes with a maniacal sense of urgency.  The Silo always considers he and his team unique, and has an almost paranoid fear that everyone else has the worst intentions in mind.  By keeping a stranglehold on his data and his team, The Silo has the ability to set the precedent that sharing data is optional, poisoning an entire organization’s thinking.  Ironically, The Silo is often an outspoken advocate of collaborative tools…as long as he gets final say over who’s collaborating with whom.

Strengths: Seeming collaborative while actually not being collaborative; able to craft incredibly detailed stories about people getting fired, killed, maimed, reprimanded for sharing data; has the innate ability to create a PDF version of virtually everything he and his team share; very comfortable with managing incredibly detailed access controls.

Weaknesses: Open Platforms.  Without the ability to restrict access, The Silo is unable to hoard information and lock it away so he is forced to either use the new tools and share, or use his old methods.

The Information Sucker

“Can you send me any materials you have – someone was asking me about Gov 2.0 and I want to be able to talk with them.”

Description: The Information Sucker paints himself as a friend of the Gov 2.0 Heroes, but in reality, he’s only focused on advancing his own career.  The Information Sucker is keenly aware of the increased attention being paid to open government initiatives and wants to get in on the action without actually doing any of the work.  Viewing attribution as a weakness,  The Information Sucker makes nice with the Gov 2.0 Heroes and then sucks every last idea and product from them that he can, only to disappear and resurface months later to much fanfare because of the “new and innovative ideas” that he’s brought to his team.

Strengths: Deftly able to conceal his true motives; extreme copy and paste abilities; able to pull together entire presentations and proposals without actually needing to understand what he’s writing; excellent ability to insert latest buzzwords into his speech.

Weaknesses: Probing Questions. Because The Information Sucker’s “expertise” has been gained from a few white papers and PowerPoint presentations, his outer shell can be penetrated with follow-up questions.

Beware of the Gov 2.0 Villains – they’re lurking everywhere, sometimes concealing their identity, sometimes not even aware of their own villainous ways.  Rather than attacking and defeating these villains, we would do well to befriend and educate them.  The best way to neutralize a Gov 2.0 Villain is to turn them into a Gov 2.0 advocate.

** UPDATE: Make sure you check out Gwynne Kostin’s excellent FanGirl addendum to this post too! **

Description: Dr. Closed Mind has the ability make even the most new and innovative ideas seem like frivolous wastes of time.  He thrives on doing things his way because that’s “the way they’ve always done.” By relying on the force of inertia and his extreme stubbornness, he’s able to simultaneously frustrate his numerous adversaries as well as advance his own career.  Dr. Closed Mind is focused on checking off his task list and will aggressively squash any attempt to disrupt that routine.

 

Strengths: Able to avoid changing his routine for years on end; leverages allies in the legal and IT security departments to maintain the status quo; super-human ability to make stagnation appear to seem like laser-like focus.

Weaknesses: Transparency.  By exposing the outdated and often inefficient methods of Dr. Closed Mind to more people, you can help shine a light on the work of Dr. Closed Mind and force his leadership to ask him the often-deadly question of “why aren’t we doing it like this instead?”

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My Gov 2.0 Heroes

Photo courtesy of GovFresh

Here on Gov 2.0 Heroes Day, I’m supposed to write a post that tells you who my Gov 2.0 Heroes are, why they inspire me, and what others should know about their work.  Now, instead of highlighting the Gov 2.0 folks everyone already knows, I’d like to take this opportunity to instead talk about the heroes who have inspired me to get involved with the Gov 2.0 community, the people who have helped me in my career, the people who made me believe that openness, transparency, and collaboration in government could be a reality.

Without the following people, I can say that I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog post, working in my current position, or even living where I am today.  So, thank you to my Gov 2.0 Heroes:

Don Burke/Sean Dennehy

December 2006 – that’s when I read “Open-Source Spying” by Clive Thompson.  That’s what started it all for me.  When I logged into Intelink, and I saw that the U.S. Intelligence Community was using blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, and other social media tools to collect and analyze national intelligence, that was it – game, set, match.  I was hooked.  My world was flipped upside down – not only could social media be used in the government, it could be used effectively AND securely for mission-critical purposes?  I was fascinated, intrigued, excited, and most of all, eager to learn more.  That’s when I first met Don and Sean – two of the founders of the Gov 2.0 exemplar, Intellipedia.  They were Gov 2.0 before there was a Gov 2.0.  They helped lay the foundation for where we are today.  Intellipedia didn’t happen because it was “cool,” or because of some directive, or because everyone else was doing it.  It happened because some passionate people truly believed that openness, transparency, sharing, and collaboration would truly help improve them do their jobs better. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve quoted them, used them as a case study, or cited them as a best practice, but I can tell you that I haven’t thanked them enough for all they’ve done.

Gary Vaynerchuk

The first time I saw Gary speak in person was at BlogWorld in October 2008.  His keynote that day is something that I’ll always remember – not because he said anything totally revolutionary, but because of his obvious passion and self-confidence.  Before I went to this conference, I was feeling a little battered and bruised because I wasn’t making the progress that I had hoped with getting Booz Allen more involved with social media.  I was frustrated, I was discouraged, and I was tired.  But when I heard Gary speak, I got a new energy – I realized that to really make a difference, to really change the way things were done, I had to commit 100% to what I was doing.  Effecting change wasn’t going to happen overnight and it wasn’t going to happen from 9-5.  I realized that I had to hustle and I had to absolutely kill it every hour of every day.  I realized that the technology and the work didn’t mean anything unless I had a community, unless I connected to PEOPLE.  Gary showed me that understanding technology is great, but loving people is awesome.

Barack Obama

I can’t forget our current President – under his watch, “Gov 2.0” became something.  More than just some interesting success stories, Gov 2.0 became an initiative, an industry, an era.  From his revolutionary campaign to his first memo while in office to the Open Government Directive, President Obama has moved Government 2.0 out from the domain of the rogue change agents to the mainstream.  It’s due in large part to this administration’s commitment to openness and transparency, that we even have Gov 2.0 heroes today.  Without the top cover that the White House has provided, instead of Gov 2.0 Heroes Day, we may very well be celebrating Gov 2.0 Martyrs Day.

Those are my Gov 2.0 Heroes – who are yours?

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