Friday, March 15, 2013

Thoughts on the disruptive web

I spoke to a group of civil servants this week as part of their development program's lunchtime speaker series; the talk covered a lot of ground and I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of my key messages from the discussion.

The web is disruptive

The internet has disrupted, is disrupting, or will disrupt every business model currently in use today. To think it hasn't, isn't or won't disrupt the public sector is naive at best. Understanding the impacts of these changes is critical to understanding the role of the public service because context is key and the context is now constantly changing.

GCPEDIA is a microcosm of a larger problem

GCPEDIA is still the only open communications tool that holds that could help us mitigate our geographic, ministerial and hierarchical information challenges and yet we have tremendous difficulty integrating it into the fabric of our business. The fact that as an organization we have such difficulty understanding how to best lever a technology (wikis) that is (conceptually) almost 20 years old concerns me (see: Debunking the Myths of Working More Openly).

But this is likely just a symptom of a larger problem. The cognitive dissonance we create by expecting new recruits to use desktop computers, blackberries, and slow, heavily blocked internet connections when they have spent their time at university learning how to collaborate over iPhones, MacBooks, and uninhibited internet is even more unsettling. Surely there is a rising productivity cost associated with maintaining the status quo that could be minimized by moving to bring your own device (BYOD) environments.

The culture is falling behind

The web gives us a window into the best in class work cultures and sets global expectations around what a work place could offer; in other words, like it or not, this is the workplace culture your office is competing with.

I understand that government offices can't compete with Google in terms of technology but that doesn't mean that we can't build a culture that places greater emphasis on key motivators such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose (see: Motivation and Incentives in the Public Service). Ultimately I think these these qualities not only effect how motivated we are but also our ability to deliver the fearless advice that has historically been our hallmark. Autonomy is closely linked to impartiality, mastery determines quality, and purpose sharpens our focus. The lack of cultural emphasis on these elements has likely contributed to what I view as the skewing of the balance between fearless advice and loyal implementation (See: On Fearless Advice and Loyal Implementation and On Risk, Fearless Advice and Loyal Implementation).

The fix is in new ways of thinking

The solution to our technological and cultural challenges - I think - is to encourage more public servants to be tricksters; encourage them to explore and integrate ideas that typically "don't have a place in the bureaucracy"; encourage them to take the risks, reap the rewards, and most importantly, accept the responsibility (See: Innovation is Tricky, Literally and Finding Innovation)

These are not easy things to do, but they are the things we must do.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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