Where’s the power?

I just finished a tour in the executive branch of
the U.S. Government and one of the questions I really wanted to better
understand is: where is power centralized? We all assume it’s within the
congress, the president, vice president, and cabinet. But in total, there are
only 552 people in that group. However, across, the executive branch, there are
2.4 million workers.

We don’t hear from these people and they don’t hear from us or even from congress.

Indeed, in order to get or send information from/to congress, executive branch workers must send information through legislative affairs. Imagine you are one of these workers and you are congressionally mandated to “create a sports program” (just an example). Which sport will you choose? What age group? How many teams will you set up? How will you hold tryouts? Will you even have tryouts? What plan do you have for the people who don’t make the team but feel they were supposed to? You can’t have access to an attorney very easily and it’s not in your mandate but still, what if someone sues because they didn’t make the team? How do you make the tryouts fair? Transparent? Account for all special needs and accommodations? What if you don’t know anything about sports? Or about injuries? Or about legal issues? Or about accommodations?

When you can’t share information, ask questions, or
even work with others who have expertise you need – you are left to guess, do
your best, and hope you keep your job. The wisest course of action is to not
get noticed in these situations because if your teams make the news, you’ll get
no reward – congress will. If your teams make the news with problems, you’ll
lose your job.

When we put our government workers in a vice, the system itself, by design, handicaps brilliance.

We need to reconsider the talent support we give our government workers and hold our elected officials responsible for ensuring that the management of the executive branch is a meaningful part of the presidential discussions. If we don’t address these issues, the power of change will be lost in the design of the system and we will forever be scratching our heads about why the government isn’t meeting our needs as we would hope.

Photo by Ferdinand Stöhr and Florian Hahn on Unsplash

System Change

One of the greatest mistakes we all make when we are young is to believe that our great idea is either a) totally brand new and/or b) that everyone is as excited about it as we are. It’s not surprising because we spend our early years oftentimes being praised whether it be at home or in school. Alternatively, those not being praised, must expend enormous amounts of personal energy to get the inertia needed to leave an oppressed environment. But those that do, will likely believe the former fallacies as well because they’ve proven to themselves that even without help, they can compete at the top.

And then we move into adulthood – we go to college or get a job, we move away, we get hit, hard, with the realities. Not everyone is excited for you. Not everyone wants to hear what you have to say. Not everyone believes in you. Not everyone even wants you to win – especially if your success somehow diminishes theirs. The real world can be much tougher than we are led to believe as children, regardless of background.

So what are some key lessons I’ve learned working in one of the most entrenched systems we have in this nation: The federal government?

First, listen. I can’t foot stomp this enough. If you don’t know what people want, how in the world are you going to convince them that your idea is something of interest to them? In military, we say WIIFM: What’s in it for me? No one can answer this question without first listening to the very people to whom you want to send your message.

Two, make the pathway to yes/agreement easy, clear, and beneficial to them. It is easy in any system but especially in one where we feel passionate, such as helping our children or protecting our nation, to feel the compulsion to defend and explain why our ideas are the best ideas. It is easy to fall into the trap of excitement and share all the details. Rarely does anyone want to hear them all – not because they aren’t excited for you or supportive of your idea but they have ideas and tasking of their own. It is presumptive to assume or suggest that your work is more important than theirs. Rarely is it the case that this is what we mean but nonetheless, this is where we accidentally, but commonly, misstep being lost in our own enthusiasm. Stay focused on gaining buy-in through collaboration over explanation.

Three, name your target but don’t create a rigid pathway to get there. Be open to others’ ideas for how to achieve the same goal. You might find they add substantially to either the quality or completion of the goal.

Always remember, when people are part of creating the solutions, they become your champions – but when they are the recipient of your plan, they become your critics.


Federal workers: America’s Unsung Heroes

I just finished my last days as a federal government employee – wow, what an experience! Inspired by the 2016 election, I wanted to better understand why we’ve become so messy, so angry, so unable to understand what our government is doing…

I’ve worked on government contracts and grants for years supporting our amazing military, answering the hard questions in education, and working with teams of scientists to tackle a wide variety of issues but this past election was so intense, it drove me to do something different. So I quit my job, walked straight into government, and started asking the hard questions.

But when I applied for a human innovation fellowship, I had little idea of what I would experience. I was asked in my interview to come into government, observe patterns of behavior, and make recommendations about how, from a human-perspective, we could re-design the executive branch. To say that it was a daunting concept to try to imagine would be a significant understatement. But also, to assume that one person could have all the ideas needed or even just new ideas that haven’t already been tried, would be equally unwise. As such, I spent a significant portion of my first year in this branch simply observing – just as I was asked to do.

My first observations, on my very first day, were of a group of people that conducted the on-boarding trainings I had to attend. These were some of the most enthusiastic, dedicated employees I had ever met. They exuded what I had hoped, but held little to no faith, existed across the rest of the government. One man in particular stuck out. He was the person in charge of ensuring the building was, and remained, vermin free so that we could be enabled to do our job. This man, who came into our meeting almost at a run and with a smile that lit up the room, literally offered us his cell number to call him any time of day or night, to ensure we had the best work space available to us at all times so we could serve America. All I could think was, whomever hired this guy was a genius! Even in a tie he’s offering to hunt vermin!

As my journey progressed, I met people at the lowest ranks who made sure my medical paperwork was signed and personally expedited if needed and other individuals at mid-ranks so eager to talk and share their work that it was almost impossible to end conversations because their enthusiasm to serve was so heartfelt. I traveled the world and met delegates from other nations who gave me insights and viewpoints from their own cultures and so many Generals and Admirals that wholly supported multi-national defense efforts. I met bright-eyed young people ready to shape the future and yes, I learned that rules and regulations – and many, many attorneys – exist among the ranks. But I can honestly say that I was not only surprised and impressed by these workers at every level, across every department, I was truly blown-away by the dedication to work, to serve, and to help others they displayed.

Simply put, I was inspired.

Innovation isn’t about re-inventing the wheel, it’s about simply connecting the dots and in that vein, I learned that our federal government is made up of over 4 million dedicated Americans willing, able, and enthusiastic about serving our nation, our people.

It has been my honor to serve among these unsung American heroes – I hope my experiences gives you hope and faith that while we may only see the arguments of our politicians on TV, there is an enormous force of individuals who are working hard for all of us, every single day.


Helping the middle class

We’ve been hearing a lot of politicians talk about fighting for the middle class and certainly, we need to help control the balance of power because the division between the haves and the have-nots creates a myriad of problems. Oftentimes, the discussion though focuses on a goal of regulating fairness and that if people are nice or rich, they are obligated to help those less fortunate. An important question to ask though is: Do we believe as a nation that government is allowed to tell us how to live our lives?

But there’s also another question and this one often goes overlooked: Is regulation the most effective way of supporting the middle class?

There are times that we simply have to put rules and laws in place for safety purposes and to deal with individuals who are intentionally lying, cheating, or stealing. But it becomes less clear when we consider individuals who enter into the highest income spaces if they got there through genius or family history. Should these people also be told how to spend their money? Are they morally obligated because government says they have to share their wealth?

In a socialist society it is expected, or rather, required but in a capitalistic society it is generally not.  Why? Because the assumption is that if we limit the height of achievement, we inadvertently reduce motivation to compete and more than that, collectively, we lose out on the ideas those high achievers share, even if they don’t share their fortunes.

Further, I would argue that opportunity alone does not support the middle class. It’s akin to putting a child in a resource-rich classroom but without a teacher to guide them. In technical terms, this is called discovery learning and it has been debunked in science because basically, when the blind lead the blind, erroneous outcomes are expected. People at the highest levels of income don’t get there simply because they worked 40 hours in a low stress job nor because they followed the typical rules of liner job progression. They get there because they think outside the box, work crazy hours, make connections with people, are confident, resilient, goal-oriented, and determined. Yes, some of it is due to opportunity. Yes, there is also generally a bit of luck involved. Yes, coming from a resource-rich family helps. But none of these things alone guarantees success.

So if the only answers we have to help our middle class are to give them opportunities and force the highest income earners to share their money – I think we will be in a perpetually vicious cycle that creates a pathway for a few individuals but never manages to empower all.

Instead, let’s develop the tool kits of all our people and help our nation appreciate the diverse capabilities and interests of each individual. The benefits of a collective mentality aren’t supported by a socialist, forced system. Rather, they are enhanced by helping every individual shine in their own brilliance and making the national connections that benefit everyone.

Support for some, Support for all

We see it often these days: someone supports a subgroup of the population and others assume they are simultaneously implying they are against everyone not part of that group. But when I support one of my children in their activities, no one assumes I do it at the expense of the other ones.

Why the difference?

In short, expectation and our funny brains. What does that mean? First, we assume parents love all their children so we attribute positive intentions to them when we see them supporting a child. We are not quick to assume they do so just to point out the differences between their children. In society though, in a nation filled with diversity, where many of the subgroups are feeling like they are at a disadvantage, it’s not so clear.

Are we lifting up and energizing a group? Or are we dressing up negativity with feigned smiles?

In truth, it’s probably one sometimes and the other other times. In other words it’s both – likely depending on how the person is feeling that day. I tend toward the former because it’s just my personality to focus on the positive and I’m not an easily angered or offended person. But I can certainly respect and accept that others are angry. Still, why assume if they are rallying support that it necessarily implies negativity toward others?

The other issue keeping us from seeing rainbows is our brains. The brain has a natural tendency to fill in gaps. So when a sentence feels like it should be longer, we will actually fill in the ending from our perspective, even if the speaker never intended that implication. So when we say we lift up women, it doesn’t necessarily mean we want to put down men. I support all sorts of male candidates in politics; I am simultaneously incredibly proud of the women that have learned to juggle all that comes with having children and families and still running for office. Women in politics is still relatively very new and we need a little extra encouragement and ata-girls to build us up. Is that so bad?

I’m not an activist but I support people lifting up all the different groups in our society. I know this isn’t utopia; everything isn’t fair and certainly not equal so sometimes we need to lift up, support extra, or become better knowledgeable about minority needs. It’s not meant to harm the majority population, it’s simply meant to lift up those who need it.

But just like my children, at all times, I appreciate all Americans.



In a recent publication (PDK50, 2018), they report that parents increasingly don’t want their children to grow up to be teachers because the pay is so low. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to not increase teachers’ pay because their salaries are paid by taxes, rather than directly, and the results of their work are not immediately observable. It creates an easy target for reducing allocations in budgets.

But how many educators are in politics? 

Unfortunately, not many teachers are in politics – it’s a significant career change. But without their voices represented directly, decision makers can not only adjust salaries without realizing the implications in the classroom but education policy can also suffer from top-down decision making where politicians, instead of teachers, are defining parameters. These two issues may seem isolated to those with children but instead, they are more accurately described as national issues because when our children of tomorrow only have access to the lowest cost, technically acceptable education that is defined by individuals who don’t have a background in education…we create a long term problem for employers, social security recipients, and defense. Without young people working, the social security pots are not replenished. Without building resilience into our youth and other social and emotional skills, the ripple effect of adult decision making and emotional issues becomes a greater problem.

The teachers of Los Angeles have finally had enough and taken to the streets to remind us all that we need to support them, their salaries, and respect and appreciate their abilities to encourage and empower the next generation.

Thank you to all our teachers – WE LOVE YOU!!!


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Dreams and Realities

Political discourse has been a long-term norm. In some ways, I find this ironic given that we aren’t really enemies but rather, we are colleagues and a national family trying to achieve largely the same goals. Everyone wants to live in peace, have access to the opportunities they need to live a happy life, and security to know that they and their children will be safe from illness, harm, and financial ruin. It is the pathway to achieve these goals, however, that is oftentimes different…and so we have discord.

But is that the true underlying issue?

I don’t think so because it were, we would be more concerned with running the same path than achieving the ultimate destination. While it is a common pitfall to get caught up in the details of designing and demanding the path, metaphorically seeing the trees but missing the forest, when a person or group is given the opportunity to step back, generally, they will find the destination most important.

But there are two other issues that plague this system. The first is the need for power. With not enough competition for resources comes people who look for challenges to create. In other words, for those people who are biologically wired to need these constant fights in their lives, if there is not enough inherent struggle, they will create it. And so you see in the media, the rise of individuals who simply and honestly enjoy a good political fight. It’s in their blood, as they say.

The second underlying issue is a lack of vision, or the ability to see a different framing of the problem. Growing up poor, I thought my goals were to get an education which would allow me to have a strong resume that would allow me to apply for and get a good job – which I would work for a long time to make a higher salary. But when I went to college, I was the scholarship kid amongst the extensively wealthy, and what I observed was unimaginable to me. I learned I was approaching the system entirely wrong. It wasn’t a linear system that rewarded good behavior, achievement, or the proof of capability. Rich people didn’t make their fortunes off their salaries, they made them through investments and across generations. The kids of these wealthy families weren’t at college to get an education, they were there to make friends with people who would become their colleagues in the future. And none of them cared about a resume because it was an archaic piece of paper that didn’t tell your skills but rather was a glaring demonstration that you didn’t know how to work in the system. Rather than proof that you were capable, it was proof that you were ignorant. What I was supposed to do was know who needed what I had to give. Then call someone who would call the first person and speak for me – not about a job they already had available but about a job I invented and believe they needed.

Yelling louder in politics, using linear arguments and pathways to force change, and demanding to use only the methods we always have renders us useless in a game of Rubik’s cube – a metaphorical space where we will be out maneuvered every time simply because we aren’t approaching the problem space with a visionary eye.

Equity will never be achieved so long as information remains technically acceptable but not realistically consumable. The power within the system is no longer held by force but rather by knowledge of a more sophisticated game approach.


We say…”Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And yet….we do. Why?

We claim, most especially in this nation, to value the diversity of people and the uniqueness of each individual. On a personal level, I think most people do this but as we raise higher and higher in vantage point, we begin to blur those lines of distinction until people are no longer seen as unique and varied humans but rather as belonging to one group or another.

Today, we see this rather starkly in politics. Those “republicans” – The “democrats” – who are these people? When I see on social media someone refer to a party name, I often wonder, to whom are they specifically referring? Do they mean the leader of the party? The leader in the house or senate? The leader in their hometown? Do they mean the loudest person on social media or in the news that claims to be from that party? Do they mean the farthest left- or farthest right-winged archetype they can imagine? To whom is it exactly that they are referring?

Because the answer to this question matters…considerably. The country is divided into roughly a 50/50 split and so for a nation that values diversity of beliefs and positions, it is difficult to see how either side is valuing members of either party as unique people who have similar or opposing views – who perhaps agree with a position such as believing all people should have access to healthcare but who may disagree with the design of the system to provide that access. And as we insult an entire party as a whole – are we really saying we hate half of the nation? Have we really become this angry at our own national family? It’s a dangerous thing to create an us-and-them mentality….and I would argue, it undermines the entire foundation of our country which was built on the belief that having diversity of thoughts, ideas, and experiences makes us a stronger nation.

Sometimes I wonder how many people have read the DNC and GOP platforms. Do they know that there is a 76% overlap of goals? The two parties differ in the details sure but at the highest level – we all want a safe and prosperous nation. The platforms deviate in only a few areas: voters’ rights and family structure/personal choice. Beyond on those two points, the platforms line up and there is much agreement. Further, the executive branch is non-partisan with 2.4 million workers and 2.1 million active or reserve duty military personnel while the legislative branch boasts only 535 members. Yet…it is the smaller of the two branches on which we focus. Why? This is a question I think much of the nation is asking because so many are tired. We are tired of the fighting, we are tired of the insults, we are tired of being accused of things we haven’t done.

Ironically, the “we” is all of us – from both parties, third parties, and no parties. We, the people of the United States – need to come together, connect, respect, appreciate, and recognize – that people don’t always agree in our country and that this the very reality we wish to have. We just need to have it without anger attached but rather, appreciation.  

Christmas spirit…

In an effort to be inclusive of all our people and various religious beliefs, we have changed many terms across our nation from exclusively saying Merry Christmas to instead we say Happy Holidays. In many ways, I embrace this change….we are, after all, a country literally founded based on the belief that people should be free to practice any religion they wish. Naturally, it seems reasonable to acknowledge all religions and also respect those that don’t follow any particular religion. But we also see on social media many people saying that they feel like they can’t say Merry Christmas anymore.

I think that as a diverse nation we can find a way to both honor the personal beliefs of each American and recognize with respect the differences we have. Diversity is a hallmark and one of the biggest strengths of our country. To be offended that with that mix comes a need to be generic in public settings feels misplaced. I say Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends today but on other days, I say Happy Hanukkah (Dec 2-10), Happy Zwanzaa (Dec 26-Jan1), and at work, I say, Happy Holidays! If the biggest problem we have is that we have many happy events and celebrations that bring families together and children to smile – then I think we can weather these differences with grace.

May the happiness of today and the spirit that comes with whatever you celebrate carry you through the year!

Much love,

Coordinate – Collaborate – Co-create

The power of our nation lies in our people, not our politicians.

In my last post, I talk about the power of volunteering and how it not only helps others but it has intrinsic personal health benefits as well. It also connects us across communities, systems,beliefs, backgrounds, and circumstances. Everyone has something to gain when we work as a team helping others and helping ourselves because we learn every day,from everyone and everything. The challenge is to incorporate what we learn into what we do next. It requires us to listen, really attend to what those around us are saying and doing and connect their ideas, experiences, and beliefs with ours and others to create synergistic outcomes.

When we expand this idea to the national scale, it can be naturally overwhelming. Partly, there is the fact that the number of people in our country is so high that no single human could possibly incorporate all their ideas. Further, we have a political system that necessarily requires our politicians to acquire and in some cases, maintain votes in order to keep their jobs. It is not surprising then that they spend inordinate amounts of time and money to spread their message and do so in a way that just enough people will vote for them. If they are not provocative, attention wains. Effectiveness is rarely measured and so the cycle continues.

But I would argue there is an opportunity in this chaos to press forward and find a lighted pathway to supporting our nation – even at the highest level of scale. When my daughter was in the hospital for months, I used to say to the doctor – you are an expert in medicine but I am an expert in my child; if we work together, we’ll make far better decisions than if either of us works independently. I believe this is true too for our nation.

I am frequently asked – what is the formula for national-level success? How do we change the narrative in our country from one of animosity to one of, not just co-existence, but of connected readiness – readiness for life, for work, for family, for military, for our adversaries? We have become focused on winners and losers and the collective frustrations that are being vented fuel our energy, provide group-catharsis, but fall short of resulting in positive movement toward our collective goal. Why?

Several reasons come to mind but I believe it boils down to people wanting to feel valued – they want to be heard, supported, and involved. There is oftentimes a mis-assumption that if we listen to or follow one, we must necessarily exclude others but the greatest strength of our nation is our diversity and creativity. It is the very act of disagreement that allows the best answer to rise to the top and it is the gestalt of the system that optimizes that solution.  So what are the steps we need to take to steer this ship in a new direction?

1. Coordinate– we need to define the vision for our country for 20 years from now when our newest citizens will be adults and we need to architect the connections across our people – to include experts in all areas by formal education,informal education, and experience.  When we coordinate our efforts, we have not only power in collective numbers but we have the greatest level of diversity in background, ideas, experiences, and knowledge present.

2. Collaborate– we need to work together to understand how our individual abilities,experiences, and knowledge can complement the work of others. We need to respect and value these individual differences but more importantly, recognize we are part of a team with the ultimate goal of joining our collective capabilities.

3. Co-create– we need to work together to inspire,create, and disseminate ideas. The greatest opportunities for success require both the input of multiple communities to co-create methodologies and interventions but also the sharing of that information with others as a collective – a distributed set of multi-influencers.

When we, as a nation, can clarify a vision for 2040, architect the pathways of information across and between our citizens, work together to capitalize on the brilliance diversity brings, and design solutions together – we will transform our nation from one focused on intra-fighting to one inspired to collective success!