Building Community

It’s been over a month since I posted and for good reason. I’ve been touring the country looking for the best ideas across our nation and interviewing these experts to create national strategies. Why? In short, it’s because I believe there is value in bringing people together, listening to multiple opinions, and engaging in conversation that focuses on solutions more than problems.

We need politicians because lawmaking is tough business that requires significant amounts of energy and stamina to argue until a bill is passed. We need activists because they give a voice to those who aren’t being heard. Nonetheless, these two groups, on their own, are insufficient for long term change because they aren’t focused on the third component needed: a pathway and plan for achieving the goals they both set. This is why we need problem solvers. This is why we need a third community that complements the work of the first two. This is why politics must also involve innovators.

How do we connect better? How do we start this conversation? How do we demonstrate value-added? We work together. We create a community of designers, innovators, thought leaders – and come together in a way that helps aid progress in our nation.

Let’s get more concrete. We need to create a virtual space where solution-oriented thinkers can work together bringing ideas, knowledge, experience, connections, influencers, and supporters who can generate idea abundance, curate information, and have the community influence to drive action.

But as my professor used to always say to me…”JJ, it doesn’t matter what you start, it only matters what you finish.” We cannot only discuss ideas, we must also carry them out. Action matters.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Saving the Environment: But how?

The verdict is clear: the earth is changing. The questions that are debated are: 1) Are we the culprits and 2) Can we stop or reverse the changes? But these are only the surface questions. The underlying, often unstated questions are: 3) If we are the culprits, what are the top priorities to address and 4) how do we mobilize to create change?

So working through these questions….

  1. The science is profound – the earth goes through cycles over millions of years but also, we are speeding up our own demise. This duality though, creates confusion and argument and at the national level, also handicaps us from making changes. This is most pronounced in two areas – when those changes require individuals to do things that are inconvenient and when they require businesses to spend money or lose revenue. It means, we need to find ways to a) make individual changes easy and b) create new revenue streams for businesses that allow them to change course without cost, or at least minimize it
  2. The priorities are not clear – the reports and activists emphasize everything from fixing soil water absorption to dividing opportunities for our people to affecting military spending. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority and more importantly, spending decisions get divided to the point of losing impact while individuals strive to ‘do the right thing’ but without being sure that what they are doing matters. We clarity in our messaging across the variety of goals.
  3. Defining the priorities requires deep understanding – with so many scientists and activists available to get involved, we have the opportunity to deep-dive into the key problems. However, we need a connecting agent that can both understand the science and make the difficult decisions about how to determine the top 5 issues for individuals and for businesses. The challenge is that it makes a leader unpopular – perhaps then the better goal is to triage. Rather than choosing what gets address, choose what gets addressed first.
  4. Mobilizing change has less to do with regulation and more to do with facilitation – When congress tries to regulate fairness, what results is more and more rules. When the nation chooses to work together and people or businesses choose on their own to make change, those changes are much more likely to be successful and sustained.

So the right questions are: 1) How do we clarify for individuals and businesses the easiest ways to make changes? 2) How do we clarify what to change first? And 3) How do we facilitate throughout the nation without focusing solely on regulation? This is how we focus our efforts and this is how we will better serve the nation connecting individuals to activists to businesses to scientists to government to the world. THAT is our goal. THAT is our mission.

ANNOUNCEMENT

While Americans continue to be frustrated by the administration, the media, and Congress, no one has asked the people in the system how to fix these very problems. No one has asked the 2.4 million executive branch employees what is happening on the inside.

But what if we designed solutions from within the branch? What if we listened to the true experts in the U.S. Government?

I was an Innovation Fellow and scientist that was brought into the executive branch to address these root issues. Though not often recognized, innovation in the U.S. Government has historically impacted 60% of economic growth, enabled the superior capabilities of our defense program, and solved problems facing our nation ranging from healthcare to the arts. But now, we need to modernize the executive branch for the 21st century and unify this nation for the future. The question is: How?

I believe we need to focus building a nation ready for the future and to do that, we need to first fix the chaotic and locked government systems, empower Americans by re-imagining the U.S. education system, and develop programs in the executive branch that address the impacts of digitization, automation, and globalization. It may sound like a daunting task but I spent the last two years organizing teams of people both on the inside and outside of the federal government. This extensive list of contributors helped write two official government books: Innovating Government and Modernizing Learning. The first is essentially a president’s management agenda and the second is ostensibly a national education strategy – something this country has never seen.

The next step in my journey is to take to the streets – across all 50 states, to be exact. There is so much information that isn’t reaching Americans and it’s time to give a voice not only to executive branch employees but also to highlight talent, energy, and capabilities that exist across the country. We believe it doesn’t take an act of Congress to fix the country, it just takes a lot of dedicated Americans to work together.

On June 1st, I and a team of energetic Americans will embark on a 50-state Ready Nation National Tour. We will be highlighting innovative ideas, activism, and tools that when combined support resilience and readiness in creating education for the future, 21st century healthcare, a modernized defense force, environmental rebuilding, and global employment capabilities. By combining ideas from across the country with system knowledge from the inside, we aim to create solutions that will be fully implementable.

Our goal is to create an extended team of Americans from every state, in every area, that when connected, create the solutions that help us become a nation ready for the future!

DC: The land of power

We say by the people, for the people. But do we mean it?

Perhaps at one point, or in a vacuum, we did….or at least we try to tell ourselves we do. But the reality is that nothing happens without money, ideas, influence, and systems of people working together. And with time and energy in short supply, we turn to the easiest, clearest, fastest methods for making change. Change plans then tend to reflect these thought processes. Accordingly, DC culture tends to start with a power assessment: It almost feels like being scanned by a laser – The questions are: Who do you know? and How much money do you have? These are the easy questions, the fastest ways to make change.

But there’s a glitch – true change doesn’t occur when these direct power lines are used because at their core, they are superficial – they don’t represent anything new, anything exceptional, or garner any true connection. They are simply transactional – what can you give me and what can I give you?

True change can only come from a swell of influence and chosen buy-in from individuals, groups, and communities because otherwise, the brittle nature of the transactional relationships ensures that a) you’ll never reach sustained change, b) you’ll never create meaningful change, and c) you’ll have to keep feeding the bear, so to speak. In other words, you’ll continually have to make deals in order to sustain your perceived level of power.

I stand by the belief that “It doesn’t take an act of Congress to fix the nation; it only takes a whole lot of Americans to work hard, together.” We have more power than we realize – but we need to know how to exercise it.

We’ve been taught that our vote is how we spread our influence. When that didn’t work, we turned to activism. When that didn’t work, we focus on our communities and things we can change quickly and without too much oversight or overbearing influence. But even this hasn’t worked – else we wouldn’t be a nation so angry and intra-fighting at the moment.

What we must do is to come together – not because a politician says so – not because we want to argue – not because we want to be heard – but because we want to save this nation for our children. We have to decide, together, to create a culture shift that balances power across our people. It’s wonderful to say that we lift up people who need help because we’re nice but in actuality, the reason we need to lift up this entire country is because when we are all working at our best, our nation has unbelievable power to be the iconic dream of freedom, creativity, innovation, and leadership.

If we don’t shift from a top-down power structure to a web-of-influence structure, we will collapse while entrenched deeply in our own biases. Change is possible but it requires everyone to participate – and everyone to recognize the power they have.

Defining National Readiness

One of the golden rules for Government is: If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. It’s an adage used widely, far more than government, but it is a particularly important one when it comes to the executive branch. Why?

The bottom line is that there are an infinite number of issues a country as large as ours faces and as a result, it is easy, and frankly, predictable, that all of us get focused on those priorities that are important to us personally. However, working in the executive branch is a job, not a personal piggy bank. And that job requires workers to expend finite resources to solve infinite problems – with varied solutions – that make some people happy and others varying levels of unhappy.

By design, the government system is set up to be a moderator across the states and be a visionary for the country. The goal, in other words, is to determine the top priorities across our country and then determine how we can best solve them. But defining which problems those are can be difficult when we are constantly pulled in different directions and distracted by personal goals at local levels. I am not saying that those personal needs and local efforts are not worthy – they are extremely important. What I’m saying is that not all of them are national priorities and we need to keep those lines clear.

When local goals are mixed with national ones, it means everyone is fighting fires but no one is overseeing the forest. We need both fire fighters AND strategists.

So how do we do this? How do we determine our top priorities? Well, I can share with you my process:

  1. Step 1: Determine the national goal. In my mind, the goal at the federal government level is to build a nation ready for the future – ready for life, ready for work, ready for natural disasters, and ready to defend our country
  2. Step 2: Determine 5-7 key capabilities needed to ensure that the nation is ready for these known challenges – Environment, Healthcare, Defense, Education, and Employment/Economy
  3. Step 3: Determine a methodology to address these issues – Innovation – Thinking outside the box can help us approach these problems that have plagued us for years from new perspectives

When we define a goal and the pathway to get there, we increase our ability to achieve success 10-fold. Let’s apply these same methods to our national priorities and if we do, we’ll create a national readiness index that exceeds anything we’ve seen before. We’ll become proactive instead of reactive.

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Education for the Future

****The U.S. Government has just released a book entitled, “Modernizing Learning: Building the Future Learning Ecosystem.” It is an implementation blueprint for how to re-build our education system to help Americans prepare for the future. The book can be downloaded for FREE here:
https://bookstore.gpo.gov/products/modernizing-learning-building-future-learning-ecosystem ****

Decades of education reform have focused on fixing, controlling, and standardizing K-12 education practices. What has resulted is a rigid system that is struggling to prepare students for the future world of automation, globalization, and multiple careers across their lifetimes.

The military, in particular, is recognizing and highlighting these concerns. For example, only 25% of Americans are currently eligible for service. Also, the Army has recently elongated basic training because they see a need for more training to develop readiness. And to quote Gen. Dunford, “We can’t buy our way out of many of the challenges we have, we have to think our way out of them.”

But how?

We connect. We empower. We focus on the whole person.

A learning ecosystem, by design, not only requires but is actually enhanced by multiple communities participating in its design, as well as its execution. So rather than focusing solely on researchers or K-12 teachers or university leaders or even the business of education, we focused on the entire system.

Modernizing Learning is not an academic exercise, it is an implementation blueprint for senior leaders across all communities involved in education. It expands the idea of learning from focusing mostly on pK-16 to placing emphasis on learning and development across the lifetime. Significant recommendations additionally recognize and define key skills needed to thrive in the 21st century, the need for emphasis on social, emotional, and physical health and development in addition to cognitive development, and recognition as well as measurement capability creation for learning that happens outside the classroom.

Combining input from a star-studded list of education leaders across the nation, this book defines the pathway and change needed to the system of education, starting with policy enhancements, collaborative development needs, and technological infrastructure improvements across the nation that will enable learning to be formally recognized anywhere, anytime, and personalized to individual needs. Shifting the focus from standardization to empowerment and making it possible for all students, of all ages, to access and benefit from learning opportunities will further add to national readiness. Finally, by creating an ecosystem, rather than continuing to make incremental changes to the linear, standard progression currently followed, it allows for future advancements to seamlessly connect to existing opportunities. In other words, this blueprint creates a living, actively evolving system that can grow as our national and individual needs change.

Ultimately, this book aims to re-imagine the U.S. education system to promote creativity and the benefits of diversity for making America ready for the future.

Government of the Future!

https://bookstore.gpo.gov/products/innovating-government-re-designing-executive-branch

Administration after administration has complained that implementing change is hindered by bureaucracy, siloed structures, inefficient funds from congress, and archaic, burdensome practices.

While true, no one has asked the people in the system how to fix these very problems…until now.

Innovation Fellows are Americans with special expertise that are now being brought into the executive branch to address these root issues. Though not often recognized, innovation in the U.S. Government has historically impacted 60% of economic growth, enabled the superior capabilities of our defense program, and solved problems facing our nation ranging from healthcare to the arts. But now, government innovation has a new goal: modernize the executive branch for the 21st century. The question is: How?

News, politicians, and bureaucrats alike have focused on congress and the Administrations to make the major changes and improvements to the government but all have missed a key, important point. These groups add up to only 552 people. Compared to the 2.4 million executive branch employees, their impact can only be, by design, limited.

But what if we designed solutions from within the branch? What if the employees shared their views on how to improve the system? What if we listened to the true experts in the U.S. Government?

Through a review of the expansive innovation programs working to solve national issues, a book recently released to the public, Innovating Government, provides a voice for many of the 2.4M executive branch employees…or who I like to call, America’s unsung heroes. These workers make the daily decisions, decide expenditures, and do the work. This is a rare glimpse inside the executive branch, the innovation happening in our nation, and how all this work can be used to re-design the government for the 21st century and prepare our nation to be ready for the future. It provides clear solutions that address root issues, define policy change recommendations, and even design improved communication structures that can better connect Americans to programs and executive branch innovators and directors to congress.

Ultimately, this re-design plan has been informed by the very people who are most deeply involved in the government: those who know the real issues and the solutions they need. Contrary to popular belief, government workers are incredibly dedicated employees that are here with one joint purpose: to do the very best work they can for the American people they serve. This book aims to elevate their voices to maximize their efforts for nation.

Modernizing America

Let’s start by asking the question: What does it mean to modernize the country?

Modernizing a nation involves making holistic changes across our most fundamental national focus areas so that the country, at its foundation, is anchored in systems ready for the 21st century.

Metaphorically, it’s like looking at a house that was built in 1900 which then received continuous updates in electrical, plumbing, added bathrooms, and redone kitchens…but which still has low ceilings, a boxy construction layout, has an awkward flow due to the multiple piecemeal changes, and is based on building codes from the past that are not ready for today’s threats.

At some point, it is no longer reasonable and more importantly, it is not wise, to keep making small edits. Rather, it becomes necessary to tear down the old and rebuild using a modernized design.

So what does this look like at the national level? It is easy enough to imagine a tangible thing like a house that gets demolished and rebuilt. But a whole nation? Where would you even begin? There are so many moving parts: human systems, business and market systems, government, academia, environment, and defense. But even that isn’t enough – because then there are the disagreements about how to achieve the changes to these systems that creates political and decision making issues that can undo any element at any time. Further, how do you even find a visionary that can create – more importantly, that wants to create – such a system-level, holistic national change?

The answer is: You don’t. No one person can do this alone. Instead, it has to be a group effort – a nationally coordinated plan that incorporates the best and the brightest people and ideas across the country – and then executes together.

To say this is a daunting task, is a supreme understatement. And yet….it is a necessary task.

Here are my recommended steps:

  1. Conduct a full review of the executive branch and its connections to the legislative and judicial branches, academia, Americans, businesses, and internationally. This review should be aimed at finding brilliance – or those groups/people/systems that are working well. Doing so will allow for replication and sharing across the system.
  2. Determine and re-imagine the most fundamental system that creates the tools for the necessary redesign: Education. Our education system is what underlies everything, what makes progress possible. It needs to be life long, emphasize American personal exceptionalities, and be aimed at providing Americans the tools they need to be successful cognitively, emotionally, socially, and physically.
  3. Connect issues and ideas across the nation – We need to connect the parts of the nation where great things are happening to those areas in need and all of it needs to be better facilitated by government (not regulated).
  4. Execute – plan the work; work the plan – the nation needs to unify to modernize!

We are a nation not build by any single entity. Diversity and creativity are our strengths because together, we can accomplish anything!

Photo by Sophie Potyka William Zhang William Zhang on Unsplash

Laws and Design

In a recent tweet, a senator shared with the nation a new bill being proposed to help regulate and control those that exploit the medical system. But the response from many Americans was very negative – not because they dislike this person based on political party but rather, because it appeared the person hadn’t done their homework about how the bill would affect multiple communities. In other words, this bill would help solve one issue and simultaneously create another.

For all the resources our congress has and in spite of most of them being there to help, rather than harm, Americans – how does this happen?

My experience on the Hill may shed some light. As an executive branch employee, I was amazed by how difficult it was to get information to/from Americans and Congress. When we had the opportunity to attend discussions with lawmakers, we quickly learned that they weren’t very interested in what anyone was creating/building/developing for Americans – what they cared about were dollars and cents…and particularly, how that money was being spent in their districts. Government programs were literally showing maps of the U.S. to highlight where dollars were being expended and then I watched as lawmakers gravitated to only those programs in their districts. I learned many, many lessons through these observations.

A second lesson was learned when talking with staffers – these are the people that help the congress people do, basically, everything. When asked how they decide to write a bill or vote on a bill, the overwhelming answer was: we google for information, we ask around our staff (who was generally an average reported age of about 25), and we try to determine the number of people in our district that will be happy or unhappy about the vote. When asked why they don’t ask the executive branch’s expert in the areas in which they vote – they said they don’t have access and wouldn’t know who to ask.

The punchline here is this: When Congress approves a budget, the executive branch spends the money to either a) provide services to/on behalf of Americans or b) investigate (research/innovate/problem solve) solutions….yet almost none of this information circulates back to Congress to ultimately improve national decision making.

Why?

*Photo by Helloquence Hey Beauti Magazine on Unsplash

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