3 Ways to Bring an Entrepreneurial Mindset to Your Agency

LinkedIn. PayPal. YouTube.

They’re household names for most — if not all of us. We use these nifty platforms to search and apply for jobs, send and receive payments and watch videos go viral.

But behind these household names are bright minds that overcame failures and challenges to shepherd their creations from ideas, to concepts, and eventually to products that we rely on today. Besides the fact that most of these entrepreneurs are synonymous with Silicon Valley, they possess key skills that are critical to their success, said Amy Wilkinson, Author of “The Creator’s Code,” and a keynote speaker at Monday’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit.

Wilkinson has spent the past five years interviewing more than 200 people, including founders of Airbnb and Spanx, to figure out what they have in common, how they succeeded and how similar outcomes can be replicated for other people. In her book she discusses the six essential skills of extraordinary entrepreneurs —three of which she highlighted at NextGen.

“This is the DNA of how you create and scale things,” said Wilkinson, who’s also a former White House fellow. “I really want people to create in government, [and] be entrepreneurial in the roles [they] hold,” said Wilkinson, who’s also a former White House fellow.

Here are three of the six skills Wilkinson highlighted at NextGen:

1Fly the OODA Loop

It sounds funny, right? OODA= Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. It’s a skill that originated in the Air Force. Airmen were taught that if they could observe glitches, quickly orient themselves to the anomalies, make a decision and then act on it faster than their competitors, then they could change the dynamics of the fight, Wilkinson said.

Think about your current role. What can you observe that isn’t working? “A lot of us notice things but [we] have a routine and dismiss it, she added. Wilkinson’s advice: Be aware of what’s not working, be alert, and seize on the opportunity to fix what isn’t working. A lot of people don’t decide. They study the problem for a long time, sometimes for fear of making the wrong decision. But know that you can make a series of small decisions that lead you down the right path to change.

Companies like Yelp and YouTube are great examples of how to fly the OODA Loop and make decisions to spark change. The YouTube we know today, for example, started off as a dating website.

2. Fail Wisely

How do you do that? Where can you do that — in government? The truth is you are going to make mistakes, but the important thing is to make incremental mistakes, not catastrophic ones, Wilkinson said.

What she found among the world’s most successful entrepreneurs is that they have a failure ratio. People who are really innovative want to fail at least some of the time, whether it’s every one in four projects or one in 10 that are expected to fail.

“If my ratio is zero, it means I left something on the table,” and I’m not experimenting,” Wilkinson said.

One tip for failing wisely is to place small bets as you innovate. For instance, if you have $100, it would be wise to place 10 bets each totaling $10, rather than placing one large $100 bet.

3. Network Minds

Oftentimes, people think of diversity in terms of race, age, gender and other outward features. But what about the internal diversity, or the way we think?

“It’s really your cognitive diversity that we want to be talking about and focusing on,” Wilkinson said. “That is how we’re really going to solve things.”

She used Doug Dietz, a principal designer at GE Healthcare, as an example. If you’ve ever had to get an MRI, then you’ve benefited from over 20 years of work that Dietz has invested in designing MRI and CT machines. Getting an MRI wasn’t one of the more memorable experiences in my life, and for some it’s traumatic. Many children have to be sedated to get through an MRI, Wilkinson noted.

She recalled one instance when Dietz witnessed a young patient having a meltdown before her MRI. The child was traumatized and couldn’t go through with the test. That patient’s negative experience spurred Dietz to rethink the design of the MRI machine and make them more kid friendly. Today, sedation rates have dropped drastically.

You may not be designing MRI machines, but you can pull on the expertise and experiences of others to help fuel change.

Wilkinson’s message to government employees: “You are in the right place, at the right time to really change the world.”

From July 20-21 we will be blogging from GovLoop and YGL’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Following along @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.

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