Around The Corner: Innovation in the Business of Government

Around the Corner. This simple, familiar phrase embodies a healthy curiosity about what we assume to know, or not know, as we go about our business each day. Of course the image of someone peering around a corner, a place where one can’t see without some effort, connotes a willingness to challenge one’s assumptions, explore something new, or discover something unknown. Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, tells the story that because of limitations in travel, early European society assumed all swans were white only to find a black swan when travel to Australia became available. Taleb says “One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and I am told, quite ugly) black bird.” Following Taleb’s example, here at Around the Corner we’ll assume there’s a black swan around every corner that we haven’t yet seen.

 I’ll start by writing about innovation here regularly. My purpose is not to position myself as an expert, but to establish a dialogue. Why a dialogue? At GSA, we specialize in the business of government, and I am very interested in exploring how innovations in the world of technology can help us perform our mission better. So, to start the dialogue, I’ll cite a well accepted definition of innovation from Leucke and Katz’s Managing Creativity and Innovation, a Harvard Business School publication, which reads “Innovation . . . is generally understood as the successful introduction of a new thing or method . . . Innovation is the embodiment, combination, or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes, or services.”

 What may surprise some is that innovation is not invention. Invention is about creating something new; innovation is about making use of something in a new way. My friend and colleague Linda Cureton, in her post called Learning from the Luddites, raises three useful points about innovation in Federal agencies: 1) leaders should embrace innovation, 2) risk should be managed and 3) a framework should be established to ensure ROI. Of course NASA’s mission has a strong dependence on engineering and basic research, while GSA plays an important role in developing new policies and incubating new programs that have the potential for governmentwide application..

 Excellence in the business of government means leveraging the buying power of the Federal government to acquire best value for taxpayers and our Federal customers. Innovation is one of the key enablers to performing this mission better. I’m optimistic that today’s wave of innovation represents an opportunity to increase both transparency and efficiency among stakeholders and across Federal agencies. And I’m confident the opportunity to innovate is no stronger anywhere than it is here at GSA.