January 2, 2009

It Time to Stop the Negativity and Move towards Constructive Change

Recently, there was an article in Nextgov (http://techinsider.nextgov.com/2008/12/the_industry_advisory_council.php) about the Industry Advisory Council (IAC), a well respected industry-government consortium under the Auspices of the American Council for Technology, that recommended to the incoming Obama Administration the standup of an innovation agency under the auspices of the new Chief Technology Officer.
The Government Innovation Agency “would serve as an incubator for new ideas, serve as a central repository for best practices and incorporate an innovation review in every project. As we envision it, the Government Innovation Agency would house Centers of Excellence that would focus on ways to achieve performance breakthroughs and leverage technology to improve decision making, institute good business practices and improve problem solving by government employees.:”
While I am a big proponent for innovation and leveraging best practices, what was interesting to me was not so much the proposal from IAC (which I am not advocating for by the way), so much as one of the blistering comments posted anonymously from one of the readers, under the pseudonym “concerned retiree,” which I am posting in its entirety as follows:
“Hmmmmm...."innovation"..."central repository of new ideas"......can this be just empty news release jargon? Just more slow-news day, free-range clich├ęs scampering into the daily news hole?.. .or perhaps this item is simply a small sized news item without the required room to wisely explicate on the real life banalities of the government sponsored “innovation” world...such as: 1)patent problems - is the US going to be soaking up, or handing out patent worthy goodies via the "innovation" czar or czarina? Attention patent attorneys, gravy train a comin’ 2)"leverage technology to improve decision making" – wow! a phrase foretelling a boon-doggle bonanza, especially since it’s wonderfully undefined and thereby, prompting generous seed money to explore it’s vast potential (less just fund it at say, $20-30 million?); 3) the "Government Innovation Agency" - -well now, just how can we integrate this new member to the current herd of government “innovation” cows, including: A) a the Dod labs, like say the Naval Research Lab, or the Dept of Commerce lab that produced the Nobel prize winner (oh, I see now, the proposal would be for “computer” type innovation pursuits – oh, how wise, like the health research lobbyists, we’re now about slicing “innovation” and/or research to match our vendor supplier concerns, how scientific!, how MBAishly wise); B) existing labs in private industry (e.g. former Bell Labs. GM-Detroit area "labs"/innovation groups), C) university labs – currently watered by all manner of Uncle Sam dollars via the great roiling ocean of research grants. Finally - given the current Wall Street melt-down and general skepticism for American business nimbleness (this too will pass, of course) -- what's the deal with all the Harvard Grad School-type hyper-ventilation on the bubbling creativity (destructive or otherwise) of American capitalism - -surely the GAO/Commerce/SEC could pop out some stats on the progressive deterioration of expenditures -- capital and otherwise--on "innovation". Or perhaps the sponsors of the "Government Innovation Agency" - will be happy to explain at the authorization hearing - how all the dough to date spent to date on development of the green automobile has yet to put a consumer friendly one on the road from a US corp -- a fact that argues either for a vast expansion of the GIA, or, the merciful euthenasiaing of this dotty idea. See you all at the authorizing hearing?”
What’s so disheartening about this retiree’s comments?
It’s not that there is not some truth intermixed with the blistering comments, but it is the sheer magnitude of the cynicism, bitterness, negativity, resistance to ”new” (or at times reformulated) ideas, and “been-there-done-that” attitude that unfairly provides a bad name to other government workers who are smart, innovative, positive, and hard-charging and want to continuously improve effectiveness and efficiency of government for the benefit of the nation and to serve our citizens.
Sure, we need to listen and learn from those that preceded us--those with age, experience, expertise, and certainly vast amounts of wisdom. And yes, those of us who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat it. So we must be mindful to be respectful, collaborative, inclusive, and careful to vet new ideas and changes.
However, those that have served before or have been serving a long time now should also give hope, innovation, change (not for change’s sake, but based on genuine learning and growth) and continuous improvement a chance.
It is always easier to be a naysayer, a doomsday prognosticator, and to tear down and destroy. It is much, much harder to be positive, hopeful, and constructive—to seek to build a brighter future rather than rest on the laurels of the past.
Unfortunately, many people have been hurt by past mistakes, false leaders, broken promises, and dashed hopes, so they become resistant to change, in addition to, of course, fearing change.
Those of us in information technology and other fields (like science, engineering, product design and development, and so many others—in fact all of us can make a difference) need to be stay strong amidst the harsh rhetoric of negativity and pessimism, and instead continue to strive for a better tomorrow.

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