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Archive for February 2012

Hear the DorobekINSIDER Book Club: Little Bets

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Little BetsFor the past several years, I have been hosting something I call the DorobekINSIDER Book Club — it is something like the Oprah Book Club but more wonky. Essentially, we select a book that is tied to my favorite words: It helps the government do its job better. We invite the author… and then we invite a fed — or feds — to talk about how that book impacts how you do your job.

And, in fact, the books we have selected are usually chosen by government people themselves.

I’ve been very lucky — I’ve hosted some great authors and remarkable books… and we’ve had amazon people from the government world join in the discussion. (Previous meetings are in the liner notes below.)

This week, we held the latest ‘meeting’ of the book club — the book is by Peter SimsLittle Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.

I used to hold the book club discussions on the radio. But now, we get to do them the way book clubs are supposed to be held: In person. I got to lead a discussion at the 2012 Adobe Government Assembly hosted by 1105 Media. And it was a great discussion. We had Peter Sims and we were joined by Dave McClure, the Associate Administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, who is one of the brightest people I know.

I mentioned earlier, “Little Bets” was recommended by Peter Levin, the chief technology officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs — an agency which has historically been bogged down in projects that were over budget and way beyond the schedule. And Levin has tried to institute “lay-ups” to get some momentum within the agency. Levin and VA CIO Roger Baker have made remarkable progress, by all accounts.

The book club conversation is wide ranging — and we talk about challenges that agencies face.

But we’d love to get your thoughts. We’ve created a page on GovLoop, and I hope you’ll add your thoughts and ideas about the conversation… and I hope you’ll read the book and suggest ideas for how to make little bets work within your agency or organization… what works… and what doesn’t? How do you make ‘little bets’ actually happen?

Meanwhile… the full discussion…

After the break, the liner notes:


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Written by cdorobek

February 9, 2012 at 5:49 PM

The DorobekINSIDER Book Club selection: Little Bets by Peter Sims

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Little BetsIt’s back — the DorobekINSIDER Book Club… and this time, it’s more interactive.

For newcomers… think of the DorobekINSIDER Book Club as a wonky version of the Oprah book club. And now, we actually get to have a book club ‘meeting.’

The specifics:

When: Wednesday, February 8 at the 2012 Adobe Government Assembly  at 9a
Where: The National Press Club in Washington, DC 

The Book: Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries  by Peter Sims.

Participating in the discussion will be the author, Peter Sims… and Dave McClure, the Associate Administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, who is one of the brightest people I know … and, of course, you can participate too.

Why this book…

Credit for selecting this book goes to Peter Levin, the chief technology officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs. I was lucky to be part of a team interviewing Levin for the winter 2012 publication  by the CGI Institute for Collaborative Government. During that interview, Levin spoke about the book — and the ideas behind it:

Levin arrived at the VA in June 2009 with a strategy for establishing leadership early on. In close cooperation with the secretary, deputy secretary, chief of staff and CIO, Levin decided to go after the “layups.” Inspired by the strategy Peter Sims outlines in his book “Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries,” Levin wanted to build momentum for transformational change by systematically taking small, exploratory steps and being open to new ideas along the way.

“He wrote down my playbook,” Levin said of Sims. “It’s exactly what I did and still do — not try to boil the ocean or solve every problem in the first two weeks.”

Levin said his first layup was not in an area his bosses expected. “For personal reasons, I was keenly focused on suicide prevention,” Levin said, referring to the fact that he lost many family members to the Holocaust and knows that survivors and their descendants have high rates of suicide, divorce and mental illness. “For me, that was a place where a morally transcendent problem met personal interest, met the opportunity to actually do something meaningful and worthwhile quickly.”

He proposed augmenting the Veterans Crisis Line with an anonymous online chat service for veterans who didn’t feel comfortable talking on the telephone. One month later, the service was a reality.

“With Roger Baker’s help, we got that stood up quickly, and today we have had more than 3,000 interventions,” Levin said. “It’s hard to say how many would have led to tragedy, but I bet it’s more than one. In my faith tradition, if you save one, you save the world.”

In subsequent discussions with government executives, there is broad consensus: Government is not great at making little bets. Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel speaking at CES Government last month told the story about when he was at the FCC and he wanted to create a way to measure wireless speeds. The response — a decidely non-little bet approach — was the often selected approach: Build something from the ground up… at a projected cost of $5 million. In the end, the FCC built an app — for a fraction of the cost. (Hear VanRoekel’s mobile government speech… or just hear the story about the FCC app.) And, frankly, former federal CIO Vivek Kundra told a similar story about when the Transportation Security Administration was looking to create a blog and a member of the CIO organization said it would cost $50,000 to create a blogging platform. TSA went on to use Google’s free Blogger blog platform… and the TSA blog is one of the most read across government.

Frankly, I’m not sure this kind of story is unique to government, but… There are a host of reasons the government is leery about taking chances.

Some of the topics we will discuss:

  • What is a ‘little bet’ anyway?
  • How does one decide what a little bet is?
  • What are the obstacles to little betting?
  • The government has to solve big problems. Are little bets really the answer?
  • What is you bet — and lose?
We’ll also talk to him about his recently launched projected, Fuse Corps, which he describes as a “social venture that will pair some of America’s top entrepreneurial leaders with governors, mayors and community leaders across America to drive meaningful social change.”

During our conversation, I hope to delve into some of those challenges — and some of the solutions.

If you haven’t read the book yet, you can at least read the introduction [PDF] from Peter Sims Web site.

I will post audio of the conversation later this week… and I’ll also open a discussion on GovLoop where I hope you will share your thoughts.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Previous DorobekINSIDER  Book Club “meetings”:

* The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey. Read more and find a link to the book club session here.
* Payback: Reaping the Rewards of Innovation by James P. Andrew, Harold L. Sirkin, and John Butman. Read more and hear the book club “meeting” with Andrew and Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra find a link to the book club session here.
* Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. Read more and hear the book club “meeting” here.
* What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis. Read more and find a link to the book club session here.
* Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott. Read more and find a link to the book club session here.
* Fired Up or Burned Out: How to reignite your team’s passion, creativity, and productivity by Michael Lee Stallard. Read more and hear the book club meeting here.
* The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media by Tony Bingham and Marcia  Conner. Read more and hear the book club “meeting.”

Written by cdorobek

February 8, 2012 at 12:08 AM

Posted in books, innovation

DorobekINSIDER: See the President fire a marshmallow cannon – and it’s not a euphemism

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Yes, David Letterman may have marked 30 years on late night television with tricks like throwing stuff off a five-story building… but the President now has his own version: The White House marshmallow cannon.

No — really!

From the White House blog:

At today’s White House Science Fair, President Obama got the chance to shoot a marshmallow across the State Dining Room using 14-year-old inventor Joey Hudy’s “Extreme Marshmallow Cannon.” Hudy designed and built the machine, which can launch the fluffy white confections up to 175 feet away using pressurized air.

My favorite part of the video is right after the President suggests that they should shoot the marshmallow cannon, there is an audible gasp in the room.

Written by cdorobek

February 7, 2012 at 7:48 PM

Posted in Circuit

DorobekINSIDER: GovLoop Insights Issue of the Week: Finding needles in haystacks — and the changing government market

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GovLoop InsightsHey there — I’m Christopher Dorobek — the DorobekINSIDER — and welcome to the GovLoop Insights Issue of the Week with Chris Dorobek.

Each week, our goal is to where each week, our goal is to find an issue — a person — an idea — then helped define the past 7-days… and we work to find an issue that will also will have an impact on the days, weeks and months ahead. And, as always, we focus on six words: helping you do your job better.

This week, we’ve talked about the challenges of dealing with big data. We’re going to tell you about a company that is going just that — for the intelligence agencies… for the Recovery Board… it’s a story of the Silicon Valley coming to Washington successfully, and it may also be an indication of the direction of government contracting. We’ll talk about the company Palantir.

And as we head into the weekend, we’ll have your weekend reading list… weekends are a time to rejuvenate — but also some time to take a step back and ponder. And we’ll have some reading that may guide you as you work be innovative… to think outside of the box. We’ll have information about the DorobekINSIDER Book Club — it’s coming up on Tuesday Wednesday at the Adobe Government Assembly… and we’ll have details.

But… after the break… we start off as we do every week with a look at the week that was for government… for the first week of February 2012…


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Written by cdorobek

February 4, 2012 at 10:34 AM