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Impatience is a Virtue

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken


Last July Nick and I spoke at Next Gen Gov about storytelling for professional impact. One of the examples we pointed to was Jon Stegnar’s glove shrine, as told in Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch.

Here’s the long story short: Stegnar worked for a large manufacturer, and noticed an opportunity for huge savings by overhauling their purchasing process. To convince his executives of the need, Stegnar sought out a tangible example, emblematic of the wider process, in how they bought gloves for workers. Different factories were paying different prices for the same thing, in one case buying $5 gloves for $17. So he piled all of the 424 different pairs of gloves the manufacturer was buying on a boardroom table, price tags attached, and invited his executives to visit. Eyes opened, and he was given a mandate for change.

We told the story as an example of the importance of storytelling: knowing your audience and what matters to them, and provoking a memorable reaction - we contrasted the approach to our standard fare of spreadsheets and briefing notes. But I always felt that Stegnar’s glove shrine story was bigger than a lesson in persuasion.


The Bigger Picture

To me, it’s a story about caring deeply about results, and being willing to stick your neck out to see things done right. Stegnar could have written a briefing note, attached a spreadsheet, and sent it on its way. Dusted off his hands and thought, “I did my job.” He didn’t.

Some open data advocates, supported by Code for America, collaborated on a book called Beyond Transparency (Hard copy, or free (and editable) Github version). It’s a collection of reflections, case studies, and future directions for open data and civic innovation. But reading the case studies, the common thread has been that the people driving open data projects were very, very serious about achieving meaningful results in an area new to many people, and they were willing to break parameters to do it (see: When Parameters are the Problem).

One of the contributors, Mark Headd, wrote a blog post about his time as Philadelphia's Chief Data Officer, in hopes that his lessons learned would be “of value to anyone interested in starting an open data program.”


You should read it. In my view, it’s actually a blog post about public service and dedication to results.


The Public Service Paradox

I use my favourites in Twitter as a temporary bookmark system, to shunt links to my evenings to read. But there are a scant handful that I refuse to get rid of:


This is our paradox as public servants: we have to be, simultaneously, incredibly impatient and patient about making progress. And at the same time, we have to look at the many, many people working towards making Canada a better country - trusting colleagues, stakeholders, and citizens to succeed - and still think, “This place needs me to go big.”