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What I learned from government innovators - Plus the seven gov stories you need to know

On GovLoop Insights’ DorobekINSIDER:

  • Are you, like me, an Olympic junkie? If you are, there is more to learn from tuning into the Olympic coverage than how to execute the perfect twizzle. You can also learn valuable leadership lessons. Here are the top five.

You can find all of our programs online: DorobekINSIDER.com and GovLoop Insights at http://insights.govloop.com.

But up front: What I learned from government innovators

Innovation matters. That is the assumption that we made during our discussion on GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER LIVE talking about government innovation. (You can read more about the discussion or listen to an archived version.) And, in fact, that was the opening question for our panel of innovators -- what is innovation and why does it matter.

During our discussion, GSA’s Lena Trudeau said that defining innovation is less important than being innovative. Yet Jason Shen, Ridejoy, a ride-sharing startup, was a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the Smithsonian, noted that there is a difference between “mere” process improvement and innovation. I intentionally put “mere” in quotes because we all know that process improvement isn’t easy, yet innovation seems even more complex and challenging.

And that was perhaps my biggest takeaways from our discussion -- innovation isn’t easy. There are many pieces that need to work together.

A few of the big challenge areas that came up during our discussion including leadership; being able to get the right people in the right place; trust; risk vs rewards; the procurement process; and the lack of a clear driver (ie, the profit motive).

Leadership: It was interesting because most of the questions we received during our discussion focused on leadership. Some of the questions/comments:

  • “The bigger question is how do you overcome the fear factor at the top of an organization when changing from the same old methodology to a proven more cost effective and energy efficient methodology?”

  • “How can we get management to understand that innovation is the result of cultural, and not based upon a physical environment or just being told to "be innovative"?”

There were other questions about middle managers -- sometimes called the clay layer -- and their ability to stop things from happening.

Jay Nath, the chief innovation officer for San Francisco, said, "If leaders aren't supportive innovation is 10x more challenging. Leaders set the tone, create the culture and send signals that innovations is good."

Yet I actually think leadership in the traditional sense -- top down hierarchical leadership -- matters less and less all the time. Increasingly, true leadership can come for any position in an organization. The the remarkable thing about the times we live is the power of disruption. Innovation can still happen. As Nath notes, it is easier with senior leadership, but it isn’t impossible.

Yet we don’t always have the right leaders. This from FastCompany:

“A culture of innovation is fundamentally different from one that emphasizes mergers and acquisitions or cost cutting, both in theory and practice. For one thing, innovation leaders have an entirely different set of skills, temperament, and psychology.”

And even all these years later, I am still recommending Peter Sims book Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. The book focuses on how seemingly small steps can result in a big payoff. I continue to believe it is a good model for government. (I should note, Sims participated in the DorobekINSIDER Book Club. You can hear that here.)

The SEVEN stories that impact your life

  1. Federal News Radio: Officials: Obama drops budget cost of living trims - “The White House says President Barack Obama's upcoming budget proposal will not include his past offer to accept lowered cost-of-living increases in Social Security and other benefit programs.”

  2. Federal Times: GSA offers bounty on money-saving travel app - “The General Services Administration is offering up to $90,000 to anyone who can create a digital interactive tool that can harness federal travel data and use it to help agencies lower travel costs.”

  3. Politico: Wendy Davis fundraising off Ted Nugent - “Davis is asking for a $5 donation toward a February fundraising goal of $300,000 from supporters to ‘send a strong message’ to Abbott about the decision to campaign with Nugent.”

  4. FCW: U.S. ranks sixth in use of digital government - “While the U.S. clearly has the technology infrastructure in place to provide, the survey finds it tends to favor cost-cutting and efficiencies over citizen engagement.”

  5. NYT: As Obama Vows to Act on Climate Change, Justices Weigh His Approach - “The justices are poised to decide whether the Obama administration went too far in trying to regulate emissions from stationary sources like power plants. ”

  6. NextGov: Coming Soon: Free Internet from Space - “That's part of a project called Outernet, which hopes to launch hundreds of tiny satellites—known as CubeSats—to provide Internet to every person on Earth.”

  7. The Atlantic: The Elephant Trainer: Christine Toretti is on a quest to make the GOP the party of women - “Likely no one is more frustrated by the GOP’s Woman Problem than the GOP’s women. Certainly, no one seems more motivated to tackle the issue.”

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