Thursday, June 15, 2017

Public Entrepreneurship (Blog #4)

My key takeaway from this week’s readings is that very well managed, established organizations can fall into the trap of focusing so intensely on their high-profit lines of business that they can miss disruptive technologies that result in their ultimate demise. The articles offer several different options for staying clear of this trap. I believe one of the best ideas that can be applied broadly to business, government and non-profit fields alike is what Cisco CEO John Chambers called the “spin-in” concept. This idea involves putting together a team from the organization, and moving them out of the organization, to work on a specific project for a given amount of time. The team would be given leeway to hire/recruit talent and a budget with specific measurable objectives to hit. If the project is a success, the team is provided a significant financial reward.

One sector that I believe would benefit substantially from this entrepreneurial approach is government. It seems that often government is notoriously several steps behind the private sector with technology. There are many challenges facing public servants when it comes to adopting new technologies – risk averse culture, legal constraints, budget constraints, and cumbersome acquisition processes, amongst others. Viewed in terms of lessons from the Innovators Dilemma reading – government managers may be so focused on serving their customers (the public) in ways that work, and have worked well for many years, they may be missing out on the potential opportunities disruptive technologies offer that could take the government service to the next level. The main difference with business applications is that governments are unlikely to completely fail (although there are several recent examples of this – see the City of Detroit bankruptcy). As such, governments operating with ancient technology are likely to provide worse services at higher costs to their customers.

There are examples of public servants out there that are bucking this trend and embodying the concept of public entrepreneurialism.  Mitchell Weiss provides an excellent definition of public entrepreneurialism in his 28 March 2014 Harvard Business Review article“Public entrepreneurs build something from nothing with resources — be they financial capital or human talent or new rules — they didn’t command.”  These visionary, bold, public servants don’t accept the typical constraints involved with government work, and seek ways to experiment with new ideas and partnering relationships with the private sector.

One great example of this can be found close to home for Carnegie Mellon with the City of Pittsburgh’s Smart City Challenge Initiative. The City is working with the federal Department of Transportation to “develop an open platform and corresponding governance structure to improve the safety, equity, and efficiency of our transportation network and its interaction with the energy and communications networks.” The idea is to support innovation by spearheading the development of an “open, national standard for a municipal service delivery platform”. The success of this program demonstrates how just as incentivizing entrepreneurialism helps large corporations like Cisco stay ahead of disruptive technology shifts, so too does it work for governments.

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