|by Kent Aitken|
Recently one of my colleagues pointed out a perceived lull in Government of Canada chatter. On Twitter, blogs, and GCconnex, they felt a noticeable absence of conversations about public administration, innovation, and change. I’m inclined to agree. We bandied theories back and forth about why that might be, and last Friday landed on this possibility:
The current wave of public service renewal, launched by Blueprint 2020, is hitting its trough of disillusionment. If you’re not familiar, that term refers to the Gartner Hype Cycle for new technologies: people start talking about them, then everyone’s expectations get unrealistically high, and when they can’t possibly deliver, the technology slides into the trough. People start questioning its value. Eventually, things level out and people find the genuinely useful applications for the technology, and it enters a plateau of productivity.
If the hype cycle can apply to public service renewal - that is, if the current wave is entering a trough of disillusionment, and can be mapped like a technology in this way - it means a few things.
For starters, it would mean that Nick (and others) may have solid grounds to question the promise of Dragon's Dens, Hackathons, and Innovation Labs. That it is time to question our expectations and ensure that we are pursuing the right ideas, and that they make sense for our organizations. And that John Kenney may be right about the tension between innovation and ongoing operations (see his review of Beyond the Idea: How to Execute Innovation in Any Organization).
(For the record, I still think highly of hackathons, but I agree with Clay Shirky about their actual sustainably productive application.)
"The product of a hackathon isn't running code. It's the social capital people created among the people in the room." @cshirky #cfasummit— Tim O'Reilly (@timoreilly) October 15, 2013
It would mean that some of the ideas that have surfaced since Blueprint 2020 launched in June won’t see the light of day, at least not in their current form, or applied to the problems proposed. Which is okay. Some of them shouldn’t.
Most importantly, it would mean that we, as an organization, are becoming more mature about innovation and the prospects for renewal. That we are questioning our assumptions, and moving towards those ideas that will actually create value in the long run. It would mean that we are actually on track towards implementing these ideas and reaching the plateau of productivity - which has always been the goal, whether we've known it or not.
That said, it would not mean that the champions and advocates for ideas can stop championing and advocating. These people are present in every stage of the hype cycle. That’s how it works.
The goal, now, is to focus on the problems that our organizations are persistently facing, and to find opportunities for alignment between problems and solutions.