Great Article in Public Management

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Great short story in Public Management, the magazine of the International City/County Management Association, by a village manager in Michigan. Read the whole article (if you can, it might be behind a paywall), but the part that strikes me:

The moral of the story is that most of our communities have faced tremendous challenges in recent years due to the economy. These changes have seen many hard choices made, often involving the reduction of staff and services. The needs of our communities, however, have not changed. In fact, they likely have grown.

I remind my staff that we are in the business of serving the public, and that we work for a company where everyone we interact with is an owner of that company. Everyone we deal with has value and is someone important who should command our full attention.

This is such an inspiration (it’s great to see I’m not alone in this mindset) and it is an honor to work in this field!

ESPN Goes to Sapelo Island

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ESPN’s Outside the Lines recently profiled Allen Bailey, the only NFL player ever from a tiny community on Sapelo Island, Georgia. Watch the video here.

I had the privilege to visit Sapelo Island while taking an honors course at the University of Georgia. Sapelo Island is one of those rare places in the United States (and increasingly, the world) that seems completely cut off from humanity. We studied the ecology of Sapelo Island (a barrier island with marsh on one side), but the people that live on Sapelo are a study in sociology/anthropology.

I don’t remember the Reynolds Mansion looking that nice when I visited Sapelo, nor do I remember any of the construction shown in the video. It was just a small gullah/geechee community with a UGA research facility. With great food.

Elon Musk on Process

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Following up on my last post about Elon Musk, I’ve got another quote from the same article in Wired I want to share:

The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart, who aren’t that creative.

This is one of the reasons startups can innovate so much. How do we get government to this point? In some situations, having a process is good. But I’ve seen it get to the point where employees don’t question anything – they just follow the process.

Elon Musk on Risk and CYA

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Wired magazine is running a great series on Icons to celebrate their 20 year anniversary.

For November, they profiled Elon Musk, an entrepreneur associated with Tesla Motors, PayPal, and SpaceX. This quote really stuck out to me; he was talking specifically about building space rockets here, but I think we all see this:

So, yeah, there’s a tremendous bias against taking risks. Everyone is trying to optimize their ass-covering.

It’s sad, but that’s completely applicable to government. We have to create a culture in government that accepts risk and failure as a consequence of constantly improving.

I’ve got another quote from the same article I’ll post later.

Innovation is a Fight

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Michael Lopp, writer of Rands in Repose, has a great piece on innovation. He’s writing about innovation at Apple (and the possibility Apple has stopped innovating), but the words are applicable across fields:

You came to expect a certain amount of disruption around [Scott Forstall] because that’s how business was done at Apple – it was well-managed internal warfare. Innovation is not born out out of a committee; innovation is a fight. It’s messy, people die, but when the battle is over, something unimaginably significant has been achieved.

I think people forget this this sentiment, that innovation is difficult. I know I tend to forget it. Hell, I work in government, try innovating there.

You need to grab hold of a project, define everything, and then put it on your shoulders and don’t stop pushing until you get there. And most of the time it feels like it’s only you pushing forward. I feel like innovating should be easier, especially in government. Why is there so much push back? There are a lot of reasons why innovating isn’t easy. A lot of excuses why it doesn’t get done – a lot are valid, and a lot are CYA. How do we work together and actually innovate?

Social Media in the Aftermath of Sandy

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Before Sandy hit, I wrote briefly about Google’s use of a crisis map to help residents and responders.

Since then, we have seen actions across the social media boundaries that have helped those affected by Sandy.

And then there is Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey. I’ve written before about Mayor Booker’s use of Twitter. During Sandy and the ongoing recovery, Booker has tirelessly worked to respond to citizens and deliver necessary supplies to those in need. And when a woman messaged him that her power wasn’t on, he invited her and any other residents to stay at his home. He provided wi-fi, his DVD collection, power outlets to charge phones, heat, and food. Pretty incredible in this day and age. For a collection of his best tweets, check out this link.

I think folks, and governments and companies, are really seeing that social media is a two-way street that can work in their favor. But in most of these cases, it seems as if one or two dedicated individuals go beyond the call of duty to help people. And I wonder if the responses would have been the same without these vital employees.