Good Read: How to Start a Billion-Dollar Empire With a Laptop

Originally posted on #GovLife

We’re always told “don’t judge a book by its cover”, so trust me when I say “don’t judge this article by its title”.

We all know (or at least should know) Alexis from his days at reddit. In 2008, after watching hisTED talk, I became an instant fangirl and haven’t looked back. Alexis’ recently released book,Without Their Permission, is currently sitting on my shelf, and I can’t wait to crack it open.

While Alexis typically writes and speaks about business and entrepreneurship, I am usually able to find parallels between his work and the public sector. In How to Start a Billion-Dollar Empire With a Laptop, Alexis raises a couple points that I find relevant:

1) “Companies (at least the kind ambitious people want to work for) no longer look for someone to come in from 9 to 5 and uphold the status quo. They want resourceful and innovative employees who work hard and get their jobs done regardless of the circumstances. To baby boomers, these trends are scary, eating away at the foundation of a steady job and life that they helped instill. But we millennials welcome these new paradigms because they instantly show who is resourceful and who isn’t—who will go the extra mile and who will coast to the finish. For the people with the skills to succeed, life is good.”

It’s no secret that we’re working in an era of having to do more with less. Public servants are continually asked and expected to go above and beyond their job descriptions, sometimes doing the work of two (or three!) different jobs. The problem this type of scenario creates is that there are still those who are so bound by their job descriptions that they are unwilling to help their teams (something that I suppose they’re entitled to given the collective agreements), therefore causing unnecessary friction amongst colleagues. How many times have you been in the office, working like a dog doing overtime, only to have a colleague run out the door at the stroke of 4:30?

If we’re going to have to start doing more with less, then ok. But how can we change the culture so we can all share the work? Or is that something even worth doing? Also, with staff who aren’t given the creative time to innovate, how does that affect the future of the public service?

2) “The best way to incubate innovation and entrepreneurship is found at the intersection of college and supplemental education. If you sample where today’s resourceful elite—the tech titans starting billion-dollar empires with laptops—got their skills, it’s almost always a combination of college and supplemental education, like learning how to code with Codeacademy and taking practical classes at places like General Assembly.”

In order to have an effective public service, public servants need to be given the opportunity to learn new and hone existing skills. With a time of frozen budgets and minimal training funding, how are public servants supposed to do this? Training is expensive. Travel is frowned upon. A lot of courses are taught through online portals – which are great, depending on the content. Toss in the individual management styles of managers, and you may not get to take courses that interest you (and may benefit your career down the road) because the ROI isn’t immediate (there’s a great quote on ROI in the article too).

We are provided so few opportunities to cross-pollinate with other public servants, share ideas and visions, that it likely affects broad public sector-wide innovations. How can I tap into the amazing talent within the public service if I don’t know what’s out there? A huge part of going to these face-to-face courses is the networking opportunities.

It’s a no brainer that we need to find (and take advantage of) free and inexpensive training opportunities, but we also need to find a cost-effective model where public servants can learn things related to their jobs without spending $800/day.

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