Focusing on six words: Helping government do its job better

The DorobekINSIDER Book Club selection: Little Bets by Peter Sims

with one comment

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

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Innovations, yes. I attended the CSIS Conference on Identities and my notes are as follows on remarks from:
    Howard Schmidt- WH stated that legislative issues are the hot topic now around trusted identities in cyberspace. He said we must design systems to work with advances in technology. He emphasized that cyber questions have been organized to include economic issues. The WH is open to discrete views from all agencies (WH) concerning what works, what they want, etc.  He went on to say that the President’s State of the Union address emphasizes cypher improvements. We must prioritize the possibilities.


    February 8, 2012 at 12:43 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: