Right, Wrong, Moving Along: An Open Letter to My GovLoop Community

I won’t bury the lede: after five-and-a-half years, I have left the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Starting on Friday, I will be the Social Media Director for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

During this brief interregnum, I have jury duty, which I find very satisfying. One of the reasons I was drawn to the role I held at the Center was that it felt like a public service. My new role, as well, has a public service facet. And between those two roles? Jury duty: a selfless civic obligation. (I’m actually in the Jury Lounge in Rockville, MD, as I type this)

I imagine that most people who read GovLoop feel that civic obligation and likely have a job that allows them to blend that desire for public service with the mundane requirements of daily living: the need to earn a paycheck, the joy (and occasionally the tedium) of working with other people. I will always feel lucky to live in a town that offers so much in the way of meaningful work; jobs that allow private citizens to play unglamorous, but still instrumental roles in the governance of their country.

Before I move into my new role, I’d like to do three things: first, share some things that I got wrong while I was at the Center and think about why I was wrong. Second, reflect on what I got right, and where I think we’re going on those topic (kind of like a doubling-down on my own predictions). Finally, I want to introduce the woman who will be taking the role I had in a new direction, and I’m sure, to new heights.

Let’s start here: What I got wrong.

1. Google+. Man did I get this one wrong. Probably the wrong-est I’ve ever been. Why? I think there were three reasons: first, network externalities. Facebook has that in spades. Google just never did. Second, over-estimation of Google’s other offerings. While I was working on-site at FDA, their network blocked access to Google Docs. At IBM, our Lotus Notes didn’t work nicely with Google Calendar. So the gains I thought people would see in linking their social network with their professional network couldn’t be realized. Finally, implementation. Google+ was simply never as intuitive as Facebook, so people never adopted Google+ out of love for its platform.

2. Data Literacy. I have always been bullish on data, and have written about it many times. But where I was wrong, more in conversations than in writing, is that people should (and therefore would) develop more advanced data literacy. Instead, the way we’re going, perhaps for the better, is better data presentation. Bryan Sivak: I’m ready to admit that you were right about this, and I was wrong.  I am changing my position because I have come to believe that understanding data will help everyone, and most people know this, yet understanding data takes time – and few people have that.  So it’s in everyone’s interests to externalize the system for understanding data, rather than hope people internalize that system.

3. My own bandwidth. I had many more blog posts and series to write; they’re still in my head and that’s where they will remain, at least for the foreseeable future. I tend to bite off more than I can chew, but that sense of being “almost” is important to me. It drives me. That said, I still need to learn both to set more reasonable expectations for myself. Though, ~that~ said, I should also set aside more time for writing. When I grow up, I’ll be better.

And now, What I got right:

1. The Workforce of the Future. I said “And these four technologies [mobile, agile, collaboration, open software] are changing what the workforce will look like, making it more: entrepreneurial, networked, porous, and multidisciplinary.” and with the emergence of 18F and other “idea labs” and “innovation offices,” to say nothing of the third iteration of the Presidential Innovation Fellows, I feel fairly well vindicated.

2. The importance of the Share Economy as well as its danger – Last year, I gave a presentation called “The Share Economy is Failing,” in which I outlined three ways to save that sector: explore alternate business models, like co-ops; view government as a collaborator rather than as an obstacle; and think systemically, rather than only about your single industry or company. Increasingly, people are paying attention to the wider ramifications of the Share Economy.  (witness: Nick GrossmanAlex Howard, and Paul Krugman)

3. The future of social media as a discipline. I have argued (most notably in these two articles that respond to Steve Radick) that there is a future for Social Media professionals. My next assignment, I think, is an indication that thus far, I am right. Will my exact role exist in 10 years? Not as it currently does, but something like it will certainly be necessary. And the good news is that I will be instrumental in my own role’s (and my own profession’s) evolution.

Arrivals and departures

One of the most enjoyable tasks required by my moving from this role to my next has been helping to select my successor. When asked by my boss who I thought would take what I’ve done as a preface and then write her own book, I immediately thought of Darcie Pichowski (you should follow her Twitter feed!). A Communications & Strategy Manager, Darcie has developed and delivered innovative initiatives to help improve IBM Public Sector’s culture and the performance of its 4,000 consultants and IT specialists. Since the time I met her, five years ago, Darcie has also led an executive “eminence program,” through which she helps IBM executives improve the way they use social media for business. I have the highest hopes for her, and have no doubt that she will quickly surpass my expectations.

As for me, I’ll be filling a new role at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): Social Media Director. I was attracted to the job by two aspects: first, the substance. When I interviewed with Rush Holt, AAAS’s CEO—a physicist and former US Representative—he said that his vision for the organization was that it should be “not only a voice for science, but a force for science.” And he said that he wanted to advocate for a return to “evidence-based decision-making.” That’s actually a lot of what I’ve been pushing for since I joined IBM, to say nothing of what my colleague, John Kamensky, has been advocating! The second reason is process-related. For five years, I’ve helped people and teams in many federal agencies with their social media efforts, but I’ve never been in charge of a large organization’s social media practice. In this role, I’ll be overseeing more than 30 properties, including the social feeds for Science Magazine and Science Careers, two preeminent journals in the scientific community.

As I leave, I do so as a whole person, which means that in my head, I am reciting what Jews say when we close one of our foundational books and start another: חזק חזק ונתחזק (for those who don’t read Hebrew: chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek: Strength, strength, and we shall be made strong). And because I am a whole person, I know that I could not have gotten here alone, and my unending thanks go out to the team that has spurred my growth these last five years: Dan Chenok, John Kamensky, Michael Keegan and Ruth Gordon. You have been extraordinary colleagues, and steadfast friends; you have moved me, always gently, out of my complacency and if I have achieved any professional success, certainly you were all a part of it.

I am moving only a couple of blocks away, to the corner of 12th and New York Avenue. I look forward to working with you in my new role. If I can be of any help, please let me know. My new email, starting Friday, will be: [email protected]  Until then (and also after) you can reach me at [email protected].  You’ll probably notice that my own Twitter feed (@GBYehuda) is about to become much more science-y.

Finally, I lay down herewith the concepts that have become my watchwords, both personally and professionally (what Shana Glickfield calls “profersonal”): trust and generosity.  Trust in one’s friends, in one’s community, in one’s network, and of course in one’s self.  In our own ability to see ourselves through difficulties and to surmount challenges, yes, but also in our ability to recover from setbacks.  And generosity toward the extending concentric circles that are our community: our family, friends, colleagues, and so on until we see our compatriots, fellow humans, and the entire world.  I have rarely responded in the affirmative to an invitation to coffee and walked away thinking “that was a mistake and is time I will never get back.”  And I am thankful to so many of you who have accepted my invitation and, I hope, walked away entertained, if not enriched.

Be well, and thanks for your time and attention these last five years. I can’t wait to see where the next five will find us.

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