Feds: Destroy Your Job & Save Your Career

"Creative destruction," a term coined by the economist Joseph Schumpeter, is a shorthand way of describing the innovation process in economic terms. 

Today we get movies via Apple and Amazon on our computers. We don't need Redbox, Blockbuster, or movie theaters at all. (Saturday Night Live did a really funny "eulogy" for Blockbuster featuring Lady Gaga.)

Innovation routinely costs people their jobs - that's the tough side. Yet as unfortunate as that is, progress will continue to happen. It just does - it's like a rule of nature.

So no matter where you work, it makes sense to destroy your job, yourself, first - so that you can move on to the next realm of opportunity before someone pulls the rug out from under you.

Yes, even if you are a Fed.

This advice may seem counterintuitive. Federal jobs are known for their relative stability and security, and many feds begin and end their lives in the government.

And yet - we constantly seem to hear talk of cutting the federal workforce, reducing benefits, freezing pay, and so on.

You may say that a wave of retirements is coming. That opens up opportunity within agencies, certainly.

In addition, there is a lack of reliable predictive data regarding how many times people change careers. Maybe the worries about job and career stability are overblown, especially in the public sector.

I would say that it can never hurt to be prepared. Especially when job dislocation is so frequent and stressful in the private sector.

Not to mention that agencies are moving inexorably toward consolidation, reorganization, and a model where government resources are extended through public-private partnerships. 

* The U.S. National Archives (where I work; shameless plug) is one of many partners in the Digital Public Library of America, contributing content to create a massive searchable database of historical archives.

* The British Library just dumped a million images into Flickr with Microsoft's help. The public is going to help crowdsource identifying what they are. And they're looking for partners.

* Google Books and the Internet Archive are doing mass digitization of books.

* USAID literally sets no limits on who can apply to work with them on ending world poverty. 

The hard truth is, we in the government can't do it alone, and we don't have the money to do whatever we want anymore - if we ever did.

So employees have to adapt. The best way I can think of to do this, is read career columnists (off the top of my head, Penelope Trunk and Ilya Pozin on LinkedIn) and take some form of technical training if you can. (If you do web work, many people have recommended Lynda.com to me, although I've never tried it.)

Good luck.

* All opinions my own. No endorsement expressed or implied.

A Big Vision for Big Data: Intelligent Agents

Google has patented an agent that will post on social media for you. If you can't think of a clever Tweet, you need worry no more - this little robot has got your back.

What if we had an agent that could navigate Big Data? It would:

* Know my data usage habits online.
* Anticipate what kind of data I would be interested in.
* Go out and find that information automatically, from multiple sources or (or engage in conversation, to elicit those needs from me).
* Deliver it to me in consumable form.

As far as I know we do not have a national strategy for big data. So I looked at Australia's for some insight.

Their focus is on analytics - it didn't say anything about "bots." And that's fine.

We need to start with analytics - driving "actionable intelligence."

But that is only a baby step.

Where the rubber hits the road: Empowering ordinary people with meaningful information - information that enables them to get things done.

Right now, the U.S. has a clearly articulated action plan for open government and a phenomenal framework for digital government as well.

But we need to begin with the end in mind.

It's not just about collecting information mindlessly. Nor delivering material to decision makers.

It is about John or Jane Doe with no particular knowledge of coding.

If we can turn abstract 0s and 1s into tools that make everyday living more productive - healthier, wealthier, wiser, and more participatory in shaping the conditions of our existence - then we in government have done our job.

* All opinions my own.

5 Things You Should Know Before Joining The Federal Government

Culture, culture, culture - it's all about culture.

1. You never know who you're talking to. Quiet and unassuming people are routinely very powerful people. (It's bad form to be showy and self promotional.) So be extra careful to show everybody the same amount of respect.

2. You never know who is married to who, or in a relationship with who, or who has an archenemy where. Across four different agencies in ten years, I have learned to watch my step. Feds work in agencies for many years, find their partners there, get divorced there, and form bitter rivalries. Again, be careful what you say about who. 

3. Everybody is confused by the amount of red tape. On a snow day like yesterday, we're all reading fifteen different guidances to make sure we know what to do. Never feel dumb about this. If you thought you knew the answers, we would be laughing at you.

4. Problems are usually worked out quietly, not in town halls. It's important to have events and send out corporate communications for the sake of making clear what priorities are. But real progress happens in small meetings where the microphones are off.

5. Every agency has its own culture, traditions and history and you need to know what you don't know. At one agency, you show up ten minutes late to a meeting and that's starting time. At another, attendance means coming five minutes early. Typically there are issues around field versus headquarters, or component versus headquarters, or division versus division. If you don't understand the sensitivities you can easily sound foolish.

* All opinions my own.

"Blurred Lines," Bad Judgment & Transparency

Days of contemplation!

In a discussion at the Harvard Business Review's Working Knowledge newsletter, Professor Emeritus Dr. James Heskett asks, but cannot answer, "What are the limits of transparency?"

Some of the comments from his readers show how confused people get over this thorny topic. For example, take these two:

* "Share only data, not information."

* "Transparency protocols... a distinct process matrix to ensure that the appropriate amount of information is delivered."

It's not that people can't think clearly. They can. But when they must operate in a double-bind environment, they tend to respond with irrational, foggy or circular thinking. 

And business today is a paradox. For the function is essentially about survival - you seek to profit. Yet customers demand ethical behavior and social responsibility, not to mention allegiance to the law. And even further, they want to "know" who you are - your brand - they want authenticity.

So you have to open up and "be real." But just like in personal relationships, this can be a risk. Two of them are primary in the private sector: loss of competitive advantage and loss of reputation. Heskett explains these and offers two responses from commenters:

1. Loss of competitive advantage: Generals do not share their battlefield plans - coaches don't share their playbooks - and business leaders don't want to share with the world how they plan to win. To this, Gerald Nanninga counters:

"Great strategy should be so entwined into your unique business model that competitors wouldn't be able to readily implement it even if they knew what it was."

2. Loss of reputation: Businesses worry they will lose their halos or even descend into scandal if people share too much. To which Khadija Khan argues:

"There is really no need for whistle blowers if the responsible organizations including government organizations disclose information to general public without reservations and let them make use of the one relevant to them." 

The federal government is not a business per se, but some of the conversations around transparency mimic those in the private sector. For example:

1. Power: As above, no individual or group wants to lose it.

2. Reputation: Also as above, nobody wants to look bad.

At the same time, federal employees hold positions of public trust and are therefore subject to ethical guidelines that require transparency even when such transparency shows we screwed up.  Principle #11 of 14 from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics clearly states that federal employees: "shall disclose waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption to appropriate authorities." 

Of course this mandate does not help whistleblowers all the time. Wherever they sit, private sector or government, they routinely face retaliation. So much so that the President's Second Open Government Plan (Dec. 6, 2013) has a special section about increasing their protections.

The rationalization around attacking whistleblowers is really a misreading of the ethics imperative against sharing "nonpublic information," meaning: "information that the employee gains by reason of Federal employment and that he or she knows or reasonably should know has not been made available to the general public."

From the Ethics perspective, this kind of "wrongful transparency" basically comes down to two concerns:

1. National Security: Obviously, the number-one principle of government ethics is loyalty to the Constitution. Thus the National Insider Threat Policy defines an "insider threat" as "the threat that an insider will use her/his authorized access...to do harm to the security of the United States." 

2. Personal Gain: Public servants may not line their pockets using information they obtained because of their jobs. Of the 14 core ethical principles listed by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (U.S. OGE), four of which explicitly refer to money and two referring to "private gain."

But there is a subtler concern here as well. It is harder to express but it is no less important than the other two. And this is where the confusion comes in. One can think of it as:

3. Interference With Operations: When I worked at U.S. Customs and Border Protection we had a code of conduct that covered a lot of ground. The overarching message: "Don't do things to bring shame on the government."

From a social media point of view, describing honestly what goes on inside a federal agency actually enhances trust - we know that the public perceives efforts to "spin" or close down the message as detracting from credibility. Even the presence of a public affairs officer in an interview ("a minder")  is seen as a form of inappropriate censorship.

Yet agencies don't usually see it this way. For example the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives initially treated the potential publication of whistleblower agent John Dodson's book on Fast & Furious as a "morale" and "relationships" issue (ultimately the book went to publication; Dodson will not be compensated for writing it.)

Times are changing, though.

As both "politicals" and "civils" see the importance of transparency to the public (and frankly as they see it cannot be avoided), they are quicker to embrace forthrightness - even at the level of the President.

There is one area that should be off limits, though: deliberation.

Think about the time you spend meditatively, when nobody is around. The conversations you have with your spouse, your children, a trusted friend or colleague.

This is your thought process. It is the non-fully-formed idea, not yet blossomed into action.

Should those thoughts be subjects to the world's scrutiny before they are ready? Should every conversation that takes place be "Tweetable" to the world?

The reasonable person would say "no."

There are limits on transparency. Maybe the Kardashians do it, but for the rest of us it is not productive or normal to have every waking moment documented on tape.

We ought to let our public officials, individually and in private meetings, have some breathing room, so that they can work thorny issues out before bringing them before the public eye.

Join me at tomorrow's "Digital Disruption Panel" - yes it's still on, despite the weather - where we'll talk about these issues and more. 

* All opinions my own.

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