Innovative Government: An Imperative Not an Oxymoron

There is so much baggage around the word innovation and unfortunately, many people seem to believe that you need to have a MacBook Pro or an iPhone to be innovative. There are 5 step, 7 step, 9 step and 27 step processes to be innovative. Why do we make this process so difficult?

Many people associate innovation with technology, and while that may be a piece of it, those people are missing out on innovation at its simplest form.

The definition I use for innovation is: The art of making an outcome easier to obtain.

If technology speeds up the process for me to fill out forms I don’t care about but doesn’t do anything to make the outcome I want easier to obtain, do I really care that it was automated?

At its core, innovation doesn’t ask questions like: How do I make this widget better? How do I improve our processes or systems to make them better, faster, cheaper. Innovation asks: Why are we even doing this at all and are there other ways to achieve an even better result for ourselves and our customers. In the end, true organizational transformation happens when your goals are the same as your customers goals. The customers of government don’t care about widgets, they care about results.

Do you care about all the forms you need to fill out to receive a permit? No, you care about building a house, developing land, starting a business etc.

Do you care about all the forms you need to fill out to do your taxes? No, you care about compliance (hopefully…) and your refund.

We don’t buy gym memberships, we buy confidence and health.

We don’t buy movies, we buy 2 hours of entertainment while living vicariously through characters we most admire.

We don’t buy lawnmowers, we buy a beautiful lawn.

For example, Toro doesn’t see themselves in the beautiful lawn business. They see themselves in the business of attaching blades to rotors. Right now, there is a development to create a grass seed that grows two inches high and stays green year round. Do you think that seed is being developed by Toro? Unfortunately, Toro doesn’t see themselves in the beautiful lawn business, just like TDK cassette tapes didn’t see themselves in the “music on the go” business. TDK invented the iPod right? Oops. Ken Miller expands on these concepts and examples in his book We Don’t Make Widgets: Overcoming the Myths that Keep Government from Radically Improving if you’re interested in reading more.

What does innovation mean to you? How do you define it? How have you been using it in your agency?

I look forward to your comments!

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