Who wouldn't like to have a government that's both as innovative and well managed as companies like Nokia, 3M, Shell, LEGO or Apple?
There is a lot of discussion currently on public sector innovation in many countries, but hardly anyone is willing to look at the way business organises innovation. The standard argument for this neglect is that politics and government are so different from business that it's not useful to transplant business practices to the public sector.
However, I think that we can learn a lot from innovation models from some excellent companies in the world to create a better and faster moving government.
The result could be a government that is more responsive to new ideas, has a professional way to set up experiments and learn from them, is better equiped to turn feedback from citizens into new stuff, gives tools to citizens to create their own stuff and is (much) more fun to work for.
It all starts with a simple assumption: that developing and implementing a new policy is not all that different from an innovation process in a business. Any innovation starts with an inspired idea of a new possibility, be it a solution for an existing problem or a new opportunity altogether.
This applies to government as well as business. The big difference is that business over the past 50 years has developed professional tools to nourish these new ideas, make a tough assessment to select the best, and test them in proof-of-concepts and from there to quickly deliver new products and services to customers.
Let's take a look at Nokia. The Finnish company of mobile phones and networks has an interesting way to generate more than one solution to a problem.
Instead of setting up one team, it will give the assignment to different, multi-disciplinary teams. The teams are in a creative competition with each other, pitching their own solution. It's a perfect way to prevent groupthink and lobbying from special interests within the company.
Anyone who has worked in or around government knows that policy development is easily caught up in groupthink and often frustrated by lobbying from interest groups. Wouldn't it be great if a minister or a cabinet could get three possible solutions instead of one?
Those three would of course be less developed, but they would also be fresh. The classical way brings one solution that is more often than not a heavily compromised proposal. The common denominator has very likely sucked out most of the originality, inspiration and clarity that started of the process.
It would also be worth looking at a company like 3M. The company wants to create at least 30 per cent of its revenue with products and services that are less than two years old. To be able to do that requires a huge commitment to innovation.
People within the company that have a good idea get time allocated to develop it. Furthermore, the company nourishes failures. People are invited to share errors that are made and share the lessons with colleagues.
Frans Nauta spoke at a public sector innovation Eidos breakfast seminar on December 13, 2006 in Brisbane. A shorter version of this article was first published in The Courier-Mail on December 13, 2006.
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