Friday, August 31, 2012

What if I told you I could increase your productivity by 25%?

In July McKinsey released a report entitled The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity Through Social Technologies

The report offers up some interesting findings (many of which are worth noting, so I suggest you read it; but one in particular caught my eye. Here's the excerpt from their dandy of an intro:
"While 72 percent of companies use social technologies in some way, very few are anywhere near to achieving the full potential benefit. In fact, the most powerful applications of social technologies in the global economy are largely untapped. Companies will go on developing ways to reach consumers through social technologies and gathering insights for product development, marketing, and customer service. Yet the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) finds that twice as much potential value lies in using social tools to enhance communications, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within and across enterprises. MGI’s estimates suggest that by fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of interaction workers—high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals—by 20 to 25 percent."
Read that last sentence again: adopting social technologies could improve the productivity of highly skilled knowledge workers by as much as 25%.

Twenty-five percent. 

The number got me thinking

In an era defined by a global cutbacks to public spending, how much is a 25% productivity increase really worth? 

Could a 25% productivity increase actually offset budget cuts?  

And if so, how much?

Who, if anyone, has thought this through yet? 

I'd really like to have a conversation with them.

Ps - I'm still running my crowdfunding campaign to have my handbook translated, I'd appreciate your support - details here!

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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Monday, August 27, 2012

MBR: The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely

I decided I was going to read a book a week for a year, here's a quick review of this week's book.  You can see the ongoing list here.

Basic Info

The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely

Why I read it

I had already read (and reviewed) another of Ariely's book on irrationality; this one caught my eye on the clearance counter at my local bookstore.

How it connects to the Public Sector

A lot of the book deals with interpersonal relationships and decision making and subsequently how our irrational behaviour can shape those relationships (for better or for worse). While Ariely doesn't specifically talk about the public sector many of the allegories he uses involve the workplace.

What I got out of reading it

"Ergo, We - and by that I mean You, Me, Companies, and Policy Makers - need to doubt our intuitions. If we keep following our gut and common wisdom or doing what is easiest or most habitual just because "well, things have always been done that way," we will continue to make mistakes - resulting in a lot of time, efforts, heartbreak, and money going down the same old (often wrong) rabbit holes. But if we learn to question ourselves and test our beliefs, we might actually discover when and how we are wrong and improve the ways we love, live, work, innovate, manage and govern." (p.288)
And, if the science behind that statement is something you'd like to learn more about, then I strongly suggest reading the Upside of Irrationality.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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Friday, August 24, 2012

Open Government or Openness in Government?

I've recently recommitted to working on a couple of book ideas; what follows is the preamble to a book I am working on on Open Government.


Last year I was sitting in a small coffee shop off the beaten path with a couple of friends - fellow bureaucrats - when one of them, a particularly astute young lady, asked me if I was passionate about my work because I worked in the public sector or if I was just a passionate person. The question was particularly poignant given my profound respect for my colleague and the fact that I was in the middle complete career chaos at work. The powers that be had just torn a sizable strip (rightly or wrongly) off me and left me questioning whether or not a career in the public service was still the career I wanted.

You see, for the last five years I've walked the fine line between being professional and non-partisan civil servant working behind the scenes while writing openly about the public sector online. It’s been an odd journey to say the least. You might think me lucky to have married my passion and my work load, but the marriage is often tumultuous.

I've held several different positions during my time in the public service. I've seen both the best and the worst the institution has to offer. I've been its most disengaged employee and its most vocal advocate. I've spent time toiling away in the trenches as a relative unknown and time in close proximity to senior management providing coaching and focused advice. I may not have the whole picture yet, but I know my opportunities have been good ones and I certainly feel privileged for having seen and experienced everything I have thus far in my career.

I've managed to cross this great country a number of time, speaking to public servants from all walks of life, levels of government, and times in their career. I've accepted every invitation to sit and chat over coffee with our sector’s established leaders, its up-and-comers, and its down-and-outers. I've tried my best to be an ear that listens critically, an empathetic shoulder to lean on, and an outstretched hand offering support to those who need it.

When I started my blog five years ago, I never envisioned it would be a springboard to these types of opportunities. Truthfully it was never its intention. I'd love to say I had a plan and executed it, but I didn't. I had a feeling, I thought I perceived a need, and I started writing with the aim of filling it. Despite my efforts, and the efforts of others, I still feel as though thought leadership from future public sector leaders is an underserved market. I wasn’t the first, nor will I be the last. When I started I was inspired by what I saw others doing in the space. Over time I found my voice and awoke to the possibility that there is more to life in the public service than being tentative, deference to authority, and authorization forms.

Once you awake to something like that, it is impossible to turn back.

In addition to blogging I invested a significant amount of personal time writing a small whitepaper, Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants. It was inspired by the work of a number of friends, mentors and fellow public servants. Seemingly out of nowhere Scheming turned into an opportunity to get in front of a live audience and my career kind of snowballed from there.

What I’ve found since then is that people are willing to invest their time in things that they believe in. What I’ve come to believe in is that exploring the confluence of people, public policy and technology will lead to innovation, it will lead to improvements in how we deliver services to citizens and how we work with one another.

While I have done my utmost to keep the work on my desk and the work on my dining room table separate, they undoubtedly have had a profound influence on each other. I firmly believe that my blog makes me a better civil servant, and being a civil servant makes me a better blogger. It's a delicate balance to be sure, but one I have thus far been able to handle.

A lot has changed in the last five years, and although it may not feel like it at times, the bureaucracy has made remarkable improvements. We have better access to collaborative technologies than we had previously, there is a push to better manage our information resources, and a keen focus on improving how we deliver service; and while you may think my last statement is jargon, I think the fact that Open Government is even a topic of conversation in this country is evidence to the contrary. It certainly wasn't part of the discourse when I was signed my letter of offer five years ago.

That said, the conversation about Open Government in Canada is still, in my view, nascent. Yes, the discourse has gained some mainstream attention, but it still has a long way to go, especially inside public sector organizations.

Sure there are early adopters but for the most part the issue isn't really on the radar writ large. There are a number of reasons for this: exclusionary and technocratic language; entrenched bureaucracies; institutional momentum, and a gross underestimation of the depth and breadth of the coming change.

That notwithstanding, the issue may be simply one of perspective. My experience is that most public servants aren’t as interested in broad and sweeping societal movements or changes, as they are in having timely access to the information, people, and expertise they need to do their job effectively.

In other words, what bureaucrats are really after isn't Open Government per se but rather greater openness in government.


Originally published by Nick Charney at
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Update on my Crowd Funding Experiment!

Hi Everyone

First - I just wanted to take a minute to thank those of you have already generously supported my IndieGoGo campaign (if you haven't clicked through yet, I wish you would!).

Second - I had a couple of people contact me asking me how to send me a cash donation (because you don't have a PayPal account); if that is something you are interested in please send me an email. What I plan on doing is simply collecting the monies and then paying them back into the campaign with my own PayPal account (so they count towards the total).

Third (and quite possibly, most importantly) I've found a Knight in Shining Armour who has agreed to translate the entire document, meaning that all of the funds raised will be going to charity!

I want to personally thank Doug Hadden VP of Products at Freebalance for agreeing to take on the translating. Doug has asked that the funds be directed to SOS Children, which I will gladly do on everyone's behest after the campaign.

There's only one catch - and its a big one - when I set up the campaign I set it up in a manner that I thought made the most sense: all or nothing. If we hit the target the money kicks in, if it we don't, well the money doesn't come through.
In other words, while I may have found a sponsor to do the heavy lifting, if we don't hit the goal this could all fall through.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I still need your help

In an effort to sweeten the pot a little I'm going to set up a permanent page on this blog for Scheming. It will house both the English and French versions of the whitepaper as well as all of the thank you's, links, blurbs, and sponsors that helped get the job done. I'll share it once I've got the mock-up complete.

In the meantime if you need anything please let me know, if you help out with the campaign, please do, the link is below.
Link to the Campaign!

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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Friday, August 17, 2012

An Experiment in Crowd Funding, Community, and Official Languages

While it's been years since I wrote Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants, interest in the document seems constant. Over the years I've invited people to contribute directly to the document on GCPEDIA, I've released an updated version myself, and even worked with my good friends at Govloop to spice it up visually. 

The only thing I haven't been able to do yet is have it translated. I've been asked repeatedly if the document is available in French and, sadly, it is not. It's something I've always wanted to do, but quite simply don't have the wherewithal to get done. 

Recently I was contacted by a Learning Advisor at the Canada School of Public Service who was keen to include Scheming in the orientation materials for new public servants. When I got the call I was flattered, it would, in my view, be a tremendous achievement.

Then, the obvious question came up, is it available in French? We chatted a bit more by email and it became clear that the school was unable to take on the cost of translation (which I completely understand given the estimated price tag of $3750 in times of austerity).

Besides, I don't have $3750 to spend on translation either, but the phone call got me thinking.  

Would the community be willing and able to chip in enough to get it done? Could crowd funding the translation be a viable option?

I wasn't sure (read: still am not sure), but I figured it was worth a try.

This is completely uncharted territory for me, and to be honest, I'm a bit uneasy about even trying this. I want to get the document translated but I'm hesitant to ask for help. 

Social capital has always been more important to me then physical capital, so if you can't contribute or don't want to, I completely understand. 

On the other hand if you can contribute or share the link to the campaign, I would sincerely appreciate it.


I will be participating in an Arm Chair at the Canada School of Public Service on Linguistic Duality day (September 13) to discuss the role of language in my home, in my workplace, and more generally in social media spaces. I plan on speaking about the results of this campaign in my presentation.
Originally published by Nick Charney at
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Monday, August 13, 2012

MBR: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I decided I was going to read a book a week for a year, here's a quick review of this week's book.  You can see the ongoing list here.

Basic Info

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change It by Charles Duhigg

Why I read it

I read an interesting piece by Duhigg in the New York Times called How Companies Learn Your Habits. It piqued my interest and this book wound up on my to-read list.

How it connects to the Public Sector

So much of what you do on a daily basis in the workplace is done out of habit. How you start your day, when you break for coffee, even how you react to adversity. The sum of which is what I think we often refer to as institutional momentum - the place we inevitably go, even if we think we are working against it.

What I got out of reading it

The lesson from the book is simple enough: being able to spot and alter your habit loops can set up you up for success.

If you are looking for examples on how exactly to do so, the book is rife with them.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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Friday, August 3, 2012

How to stop being tech support in 30 days

Be warned this is a radical approach to a complex problem as such it would require a certain degree of intestinal fortitude to pull off; I came to it on the fly in a moment of guerilla inspired creativity during the Next Generation of Government Summit last week:

  1. Put a mason jar in your office for every person who asks you for tech support. 
  2. Label each jar with the name of one of your colleagues who asks you for help
  3. Place a marble in person x's jar every time they ask you 
  4. Photograph your jars at the end of everyday
  5. After 30 days make a 15 second video that shows the evolution of the filling jars
  6. Gather the people in the boardroom
  7. Show them the video
  8. Explain to them that each marble represents a a time when one of them asked you to do something that took time away from your substantive duties
  9. Hand each person the jar with their name on it
  10. Tell them that it represents the karma you've built up over the past month and to kindly remember that when you come asking them to do something for you

If all that fails, just wear the T-Shirt.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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Note that while we work as public servants this is entirely our own initiative and what we post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, our offices or our positions there in.

Notez bien que nous travaillons commes functionnaires, ceci est entièrement notre propre initiative et ce que nous publions sur ce site ne reflète pas nécessairement le point de vue du gouvernement, de nos organisations ou de nos postes.