Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thinking Outside The Box Outside The Box

Sure, they told you about it, they even sent you to classes or workshops. "You must think outside the box!" For some of us, thinking outside the box is hard, for some of us it's easy. I, personally, have always struggled to think WITHIN the box.

But when you work in a bureaucracy, you know they don't really mean it. You know what happens when people think outside the box. All your "outside the box" ideas have been shot down or, even worse, ignored.

So now we are trapped in another box called "Thinking Outside The Box Doesn't Work." How do we get out of THAT box. That's the trick. Thinking outside the box, in a bureaucracy, is not that hard. There are so many long entrenched, inefficient and ineffective procedures that it's really not that hard to think of better ways outside the current box. That box outside the box traps us again, that box says "nothing can change." If we can’t think outside that box nothing will change.

In a bureaucracy we need to find “outside the box” ways to get “outside the box" ideas implemented. And that will take guts.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Unintended Consequences

See, I told you so!

“On Wednesday, President Obama put a $500,000 limit on annual pay of bank executives whose firms receive government assistance during the financial crisis. But he also said the new guidelines are “only the beginning of a long-term effort” to realign the way business leaders are paid, beyond the banking industry and other firms getting bailouts.” - Christian Science Monitor

That’ll teach ‘em!

Sure it will.

Want to buy a bridge?

What makes you think people who have made huge salaries will stay on working for a fraction of their salary? A salary exceeded by many junior stockbrokers on Wall Street? You may not like them, but do you think they got where they are by being stupid?

An online article in Scragged states:

“If, truly, the very best leaders require astronomical salaries, then the banks with salary caps won't be able to afford any managers but losers. Every last one of the best leaders will go to the private firms, which will then proceed to run rings around the others thus hobbled. In time, the government-owned failures will go out of business; the government will be out of the business world as it ought to be. Problem solved! For sure, New York City believes this is what will happen; we're seeing reports of panic in the streets that the executives of New York's bailed-out banks, wanting more than a mere half-mil, will be decamping to greener pastures.

If, on the other hand, mega-salaries are not truly required, but came about by insider games, we'll all be able to see it. The government companies with their cheap leaders will be able to compete just fine. Once that fact becomes widely recognized, what owner or board of directors would be able to justify a multi-millionaire salary for an executive when their government competitor is doing just as well paying a paltry few hundred grand? The executive salary ratchet will go into reverse all by itself, without the need of further government intervention.”

Which will it be?

If we tax the rich excessively, they will eventually relocate their wealth to places that will gladly take a smaller share. Fair? Probably not, but true nonetheless. What we intend to do in the name of fairness and doing the right thing may not give us the consequences we expect. I think we have some major unintended consequences ahead. Whether they are good consequences or bad consequences remains to be seen.

See, I told you so!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Changes 2008 – Part 4

The Resurrection of Faith in Government and Belief in Government Service

FDR brought our parents together to fight a war and they believed “Yes We Can!”

JFK made us believe in Camelot.

But then the Democrats and Republicans got us stuck in a war we really didn’t want to win. And then Bobby also got shot and the young supporters of “Clean Gene” couldn’t get him elected. And we started to despair. In November of 1972 I sat at a fountain at the D.C. Sheraton (McGovern Headquarters) crying and discouraged that a good man would lose in a landslide to Tricky Dick.

“I let down the country. I let down our system of government, and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but now think it too corrupt…” Richard Nixon to David Frost

My days in politics came to an abrupt end. It didn’t seem worth it. My generation was too disillusioned.

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today, at home and around the world!” - John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961

Kennedy’s dream for my generation did not survive Vietnam and Watergate. We have been slogging along, distrusting and disliking our government ever since. We think very poorly of politicians and government employees.

Again “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans”, the Millennials, perhaps less tempered, disciplined and proud, but perhaps even more “unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights” and even more committed.

Both Obama and McCain have called for a resurrection of faith in government and belief in government service. While McCain lost, his life has been a shining example to us all. And Obama has captured the hearts and hopes of the new generation.

Bobby Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern had captured the hearts of the young generation, but they lost. Barack Obama won and now the Millennials feel they have won also. They feel their voice can be heard, that their votes count and that a desire to change the world is not a lost cause.

They are hopeful. A recent poll shows:

  • - Millennials believe that our nation’s leaders – private sector, public sector, and political – are not doing enough to encourage young people to enter public service.
  • - Millennials indicate that they would be more likely to vote for someone if they support public service programs for young people – and they would be more likely to engage in service if it was more of a priority for our government.
  • - By a margin of more than 7:1, Millennials overwhelmingly support the creation of a U.S. Public Service Academy (an equivalent school to the military academies dedicated to public service.)
  • - A majority of all Millennials indicate that they would consider applying to the U.S. Public Service Academy, and 19% say that they would “very likely” consider applying. Those most likely to consider applying include: men (63%), Southerners (63%), African Americans (64%), Latinos (68%), and Asian Americans (70%).
  • - Political affiliation did not affect young people’s perception of the Academy – 58% of Democrats and 56% of Republicans say that they would consider applying to the Academy.

Don’t be cynical. Encourage young people who feel this way. Volunteer yourself to help out in some way. This opportunity may not come again for some time if we don’t take advantage of it. Young people see themselves as connected, in social communities. Government has an opportunity to be part of that community if we reach out to them the way Barack Obama did.

Here’s to hoping that in 2009 “change that we believe in” becomes the widespread belief that we really can (and must) change. Change is inevitable. Change can be good or bad. Let’s support the hope and belief of the new generation of Millennials.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Changes 2008 – Part 3

Alternative Fuels.

I know, this idea is not new, but I think this is the year we reached the “tipping point” where prices, politics and common sense have come together. There are a million ideas floating around out there, and I don’t think we have the right answer yet. But I think we have reached the point where the search for alternative fuel will lead us to a technological breakthrough. It will be something that will create wholesale change like the internal combustion engine or the silicon chip. I’m sure the work is already underway in some obscure laboratory that we now know nothing about.

There is a huge economic incentive to this search, the discovery will make some people immensely rich. That is a good thing. Just like some benefited greatly from the industrial and computer revolutions, so will some get rich on cheap, clean energy. And then we will all benefit.

This economic incentive will “fuel” the quest, don’t think it will be warm fuzzy environmentalists doing the work. It will be engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, businessmen and venture capitalists who will make energy available on a scale we can not now imagine. Thirty years ago we could not imagine the amount of information that would be available 24/7 to everyone through the internet. What will life be like when cheap, clean energy is equally available? What was life like before the silicon chip or the internal combustion engine? It will be that different. And it will probably occur even faster than the computer revolution, since all change is accelerating.

I don’t know what it is yet, but I know we are all now aware it needs to exist and we are willing to pay for it. I do predict one thing though, it will bring about the end of the internal combustion engine. We will have to stop burning things to get our energy. Wood, coal and petroleum will no longer be burned to power our machines. Nuclear, wind, solar or geothermal might be the source cultivated and distributed by new processes. Or maybe something totally new.

But now we are all looking for it, and that means it is just a matter of time. We are now ready for this change.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Changes 2008 – Part 2

In my last post I said I would be commenting on things that I believe may change our lives in the near future. Here is another:

Cloud Computing

One reason computers are getting smaller and smaller (becoming big phones) is that they won’t need the software or storage to reside on the machine. The programs live on the web and your documents can be stored there also. This will allow computer makers to put small, solid state drives in the new computers instead of the old bulky mechanical ones. Computer storage (personal variety) will not be an issue, programs and documents will live on the internet servers “in the cloud.”

We have been used to playing online games for some time, but now word processing, spreadsheets, databases, etc. are now also available through Google Docs, Zoho and other providers. (I have been experimenting with these and now there are some days when I don’t use MS Word at all.) GMail is the defacto email writing and storage solution for the masses already. So far, most of these programs are free.

There are comparable business solutions being offered, incorporating software as a service (SaaS), and other recent, well-known technology trends. Their common theme is reliance on the Internet for satisfying the computing needs of the users, for example, Google Apps. A big benefit here is that IT only has to update the program on the Web, not on individual computers, saving a great deal of time and expense. Traditional software vendors are starting to hurt already.

The web is no longer a bunch of static pages. It is now an interactive medium known as Web 2.0 . As we interact with others more and more on the web, the web will increasingly be a place that we truly live, a real place where real people work and meet. You might want to stake out a piece of web real estate and make yourself comfortable. We are going to be here for a long time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Changes 2008 – Part 1

I sometimes get obsessive about change. I often speak and write about how it is coming faster and faster, sometimes in incremental steps, sometimes in bursts. This year’s presidential election put “change” on everyone’s lips, it remains to be seen if it in our hearts, particularly, the hearts of those who work in government. Time will tell. It will take more than a new federal executive branch with a charismatic leader to change a country, but it can certainly be helpful. I am full of hope (and a little fear) for 2009. Those at the top now embrace inevitable change. We will see if they can make major, positive changes. That was why they were elected.

2008 brought about, or increased awareness of, other things that I believe may change our lives in the near future. I will be writing about some of them in the next few posts.

Change #1 - The Rise of Social Networking

The early web allowed us to access almost limitless static information (web pages) and cell phones allowed us to reach any single person at any given time no matter where we or they were located. Now the line between computers and telephones is blurring.

Sprint is now bundling all their mobile services including internet, GPS and unlimited voice for $99.99 a month. Radio Shack is teaming with AT&T to sell a small “netbook” computer that will allow you to 24/7 access the web anywhere in the AT&T area, the computer will only cost $99 and the wireless internet contract will be $60 a month. The concept of affordable bundled services and low cost computers (effectively big phones with a screen and usable keyboard) is huge.

However we will not just be looking at web pages and sending emails. We will be social networking anywhere and anytime. People will not just communicate one at a time but in groups, social networks. Blogging, podcasting, FaceBook and it’s professional sibling Linkedin LinkedIn , virtual worlds like Second_Life and the increasingly popular micro-blog Twitter (think of texting over the internet to groups) connect millions all day every day. Even that which we know to be true, “knowledge,” will be determined less and less by books and professorial lectures that by what the Wikipedia network of contributors determines to be true. (Read about Steven Colbert’s take on “Wikiality”, a subspecies of “Truthiness.”)

Like it or not, there will be less alone time, that is why every young person is nearly literally on the phone all the time. They live in another world (a very real world with very real people) where everyone is constantly in touch, not only with each other but with the entire network (think Borg). We will all live there too, eventually. Then it will no longer be another world but part of the only world we all know. That will be a major change in human communication and perception.

Next: Cloud Computing, Alternative Fuels, and The Resurrection of Faith in Government and Belief in Government Service.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Can We Learn from the Automakers?

Detroit was headed for collapse, but it looks like the government will step in to loan them the money needed to keep going despite their mismanagement and short-sightedness. Who will step in to help the government bureaucracy that suffers from some of the same types of mismanagement and short-sightedness?

Justin Pinkerman, writing for “Leadership Wired” has some suggestions in Leadership Lessons Driven Home by the Struggles of U.S. Automakers. These run contrary to a bureaucrat’s natural instinct, but are useful nonetheless.

  1. Wealth Makes Waste, Fight to Stay Lean
  2. Once Broken, Trust Must Be Restored at a Premium
  3. During Downturns, Leaders Model the Way of Frugality

“Wealth Makes Waste, Fight to Stay Lean” Getting lean or leaner must be a priority, an ongoing ACTION, not a REACTION to current problems.

“Once Broken, Trust Must Be Restored at a Premium” Unfortunately Government is very low in current public perception. Government improvements will not be enough, public relations efforts must be established (innovative and frugal, of course.) But it is going to have a cost.

“During Downturns, Leaders Model the Way of Frugality” The corner office, large desk and leather chair are the bureaucrat’s status symbols (admittedly, few travel around in their own jets.) Still, a message of frugality sits better with the rank and file if the administrators practice it also.

Times are tough and getting tougher. Can we learn from the hard lessons of others or will we just plow ahead until disaster strikes us in the same way?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Resistance Is a Vital Necessity

Thing are gonna change soon. There is not enough money now to keep the government bureaucracies operating as they are now. Change as inevitable and imminent. Sooner not later.

The bureaucrats and government workers are going to kick and scream but change is going to happen anyway. How can a person working in the bureaucracy deal with the resistance to change?

Embrace it, says Babak Armajani, chair of The Public Strategies Group. In Dealing with Resistance he outlines how. It’s a quick read and worthwhile. If we want to make things better we need to learn how to work with those who wish to keep things the same. His 3 main points are:

· Talk to your resistors.

· Give people choices.

· Invest in change.

Check it out, and see what is coming.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


We should all be involved in leaderSHIP. Even if we don’t think of ourselves as leaders, or even if we don’t WANT to be leaders, we still can (and should) be involved in leaderSHIP. Huh? Confused?

I read an article recently called “The New Face of Leadership: Implications for Higher Education.” While it was written for educators, it applies to everyone. Here is the main point:

“Contrary to popular thinking, the term "leadership" is a recent addition to the English language. In fact the word did not come into usage until the late 19th Century. Although the words "lead" and "leader" have a much longer history, they usually referred only to authority figures. The birth and evolution of the idea of "leaderSHIP" focuses on a much more complex concept that reaches beyond the single leader. In fact, contemporary definitions most often reject the idea that leadership revolves around the leader's ability, behaviors, styles or charisma. Today, scholars discuss the basic nature of leadership in terms of the "interaction" among the people involved in the process: both leaders and followers. Thus, leadership is not the work of a single person, rather it can be explained and defined as a "collaborative endeavor" among group members. Therefore, the essence of leadership is not the leader, but the relationship.

… leadership is not what leaders do. Rather, leadership is what leaders and followers do together for the collective good. In today's society, leaders operate in a shared-powered environment with followers. No longer does a single leader have all the answers and the power to make substantial changes. Instead, today we live in world where many people participate in leadership, some as leaders and others as followers. Only when we all work together can we bring about successful changes for our mutual purposes.”