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Like Steve Jobs, Government can “Think Different”

The following is the original version of a shorter post originally published on GPO’s Government BookTalk blog on October 11, 2011.

On October 5, 2011, we lost one of America’s great geniuses of innovation, Apple’s founder and CEO, Steve Jobs.

From the beginning, Steve Jobs seemed to “Think Different” than everyone else, which made Apple’s 1994 ad campaign so appropriate.

The 1994 Think Different ad began with these words [Image courtesy of MacDesktops]:

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes … the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. … You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. …

They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

I can remember each time I first used one of Apple’s products. While working for IBM as a systems engineer right out of college and working with both mainframe systems and some not-always-so-friendly early PC operating systems (remember DOS?), I got to use a friend’s Macintosh and was blown away by how easy it was to use. Fast forward through the introduction of the iPod; iTunes online music and apps store; the iPhone—the first touchscreen smartphone; and now the iPad, first touchscreen tablet; and we now have a world that couldn’t conceive of life without Steve Jobs’ innovations.

One of Jobs’ secret to success was treating Apple as an idea and business incubator to continually research and fund what could possibly be the “next great thing” in the future, but was still only a germ of an idea from some engineer or scientist.

The Federal Government as an Incubator of Innovation

Like Apple, one of the key roles of the US Federal Government is to serve as an incubator of innovation.

Here at GPO, for example, we are embracing innovation by producing eBooks, digital downloads, information portals and databases in response to the changing needs of our increasingly digital society, which have been driven in part by Apple inventions introduced by Steve Jobs.

Most of the work products from the Federal Government can be and are used freely by private industry or other areas of Government to spur their own innovations. From statistics to research, processes to products, the Government has provided the seeds to innovation for American industry throughout the years.

Looking through our recent catalog on the US Government Bookstore website, I came across these publications which provide examples of innovation both within the Federal Government and in partnership with the private sector:

  • Spinoff Innovative Partnerships Program 2009, provides an in-depth look at how NASA’s initiatives in aeronautics and space exploration have resulted in beneficial commercial technologies in the fields of health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, environmental protection, computer technology and industrial productivity. Some innovation spinoffs over the years include:
    • lightweight breathing system adapted for firefighters;
    • Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric for astronaut spacesuits is now used as a permanent roofing material for buildings and stadiums;
    • remote-controlled robotic arms are now being used for robotic surgical operations; and
    • artificial heart pump based on the design of NASA’s space shuttle main engine fuel pumps.
    • You can get a print copy of this book now at the US Government Bookstore or find it in a library.

What are some of the innovations from your organization where you showed government can “Think Different”[ly]?

About the Author: I am Michele Bartram, head of Promotions for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division. My duties include marketing for the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public. Due to the retirement of our blogger, Jim Cameron, my duties now also include taking the helm as Blogger for Government Book Talk. I have been in the Internet marketing and ecommerce field for over 15 years.


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Profile Photo Andrea Schneider

I am very interested in the answers you find in government. They definitely exist. However, by itself, without institutional leadership and some minimal support, government hasn’t been designed to “think differently” and most importantly, to act differently.

We are making big strides in the technology part of the innovation agenda. In a lot of ways the US innovation agenda has become closely related to the technology, data, transparency, apps and accountability part of the open government agenda. The human and organizational factors necessary for the radical redesign of services or creation of a more comfortable environment for taking risks has not emerged. Even Steve Jobs had to have a firm grip on the wheel of Apple to integrate “think differently” into the organizational mind set to take risks with failure and trying how many times to get it right.

NASA has truly done some great things and are providing a good model. I think a good question is “what will it take for government to “think differently”?

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