I had the true pleasure of speaking this week at the “Policy Matters” conference in Edmonton. Held every two years for leaders in the Government of Alberta, it brings together all of the policymakers under a central theme to think, learn, collaborate and network. This year’s theme was on Disruption and Policy Innovation. As the closing Keynote speaker, I used the opportunity to share some themes from my book Tip of the Spear. I connected the things that are important and of concern to me about the future with the initiatives and vision of public policy leadership.
But about three-quarters of the way through my prepared talk, I went off script. I decided to take a risk; “Play some Jazz” as I like to say.
Now, this is always fun when you are Miles Davis or Malcolm Gladwell, and it always sounds cool in theory. It is, however, always a risky move in front of 1,200 people! But I think I got it out ok and I wanted to push out the idea further in writing to be sure I hadn’t lost my mind.
Here’s what I said – in real time.
I said that I think it’s time that my colleagues and partners in the private sector/ innovation world stop beating up the folks in the bureaucracy of government.
Now wait! Before you jump on me and ‘troll’ the well-worn arguments of the big, bad, slow and inefficient government, I did this by coming up with the first two lines of what I think might be a new “shared” public/private sector Social Contract:
Public/Private Social Contract
- The private sector needs to explicitly recognize that in the world of “Tip of the Spear” issues, our public sector is on the absolute front line of supporting, regulating and understanding issues. Disruption is coming at them hard, wrapped in the virtually impossible calculus of technology speed, complexity and unknowns. These coming changes – as I argue in the book – are multiple existential crises that will blow us up or just as likely make the world a much, much better place. Public policy makers CANNOT do this alone. They need our help and they need for us to stop yelling at them.
- In return, the public sector leadership at all levels HAS to commit to fixing the machine. They need to create “Innovation of Ways” that match the intensity, velocity, collaboration and ruthlessness of the private sector entrepreneurial/innovation ecosystem. They need to match our “Innovation of Things” machine that cranks out new technologies that help us do stuff faster, better and cheaper. This “Innovation of Ways” approach needs to learn how to incubates and accelerate policy in a world of “Lean”, MVP, risk and execution.
Now I get that nuclear reactor safety is not an “MVP/Lean” kinda’ thing. But so much of what is coming at us needs a policy response that is rapid, flexible, iterative and based on principles of design thinking – and most doesn’t look anything like nuclear safety. And I also understand that the public sector does reach out to experts in the private sector all the time. But too often it is in the form of “Thanks for the input, we’ll take it from here…”. That simply doesn’t work anymore. In the software engineering terms, that is a bad version of the waterfall method of development in a very Agile world. We need to be better.
Because of this, I called out to the assembled at the conference that we collectively need work smarter and better together. And quickly. The Rainforest Movement is teaching us that collective Trust is the precursor to innovation acceleration and velocity. Let’s start with a new social contract. Let’s start by stopping the yelling and starting to commit to fixing the policy machine.
What are your thoughts, my private and public sector friends? Can we build a new commitment – regardless of our political stripes – work together to “10x” the way we teach, regulate, inform and keep safe our businesses, families and communities?
Let’s create the PolicyX Challenge that encourages and rewards game-changing policy.
In the end, if we don’t, we will continue the blame game that has plagued public/private sector interaction for a generation. The Tip of the Spear calls out that exponential changes caused by new technology are “shots across the bow of our indifference”. Instead, let’s fix this.