During a recent GovLoop training, author and Harvard Business School professor Mitchell Weiss discussed the ideas behind his new book We the Possibility: Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve our Most Urgent Problems. In his book, Weiss rejects the idea that government and innovation exist on opposite poles, pondering how government can try new things.
Possibility Government is Weiss’s solution. Possibility Government imagines new ideas and approaches to problems. In contrast, Probability Government adheres to the same methods government has always used because these methods always seem to work. Even if these methods produce unsatisfactory results, governments may rely on them because they fear venturing into new territory.
If you value innovation or want to see changes at your agency, employing Possibility Government might work for you. Here are five things to keep in mind when using Possibility Government.
It is common for issues to go unaddressed until they spiral into huge problems that cannot be ignored. “It cannot be that we wait for crises to make a change,” argued Weiss. By using Possibility Government before a crisis arises, we can prevent a catastrophe or at the very least, soften its blow. When you delay creative planning until crucial moments, the ideas have less time to grow because too much is at stake. Share your ideas during meetings or with colleagues. You never know how important they might become.
Many people believe that it doesn’t matter if they change their method of thinking because they do not occupy a leadership position. You don’t have to be a leader to bring Possibility Government to your workplace. You can still challenge yourself to generate more ideas as an associate. Start by trying to find new approaches to solve problems.
Possibility Government doesn’t need to take the form of an elaborate scheme; it can start with a simple suggestion. Many workers do not feel psychologically safe enough to brainstorm new ideas. They believe that they will look stupid, be rejected, or get fired. Understand the power of ideas and encourage others at your organization to express their ideas without fear.
With distrust of government being widespread now, it can be easy to believe that avoiding risk is the best method. However, it is not. Using the same systems repeatedly will only serve as confirmation bias that government is broken to skeptical constituents who have lost faith in the public sector. When developing new approaches, communicate the power of Possibility Government with the communities you serve. Let them know the power of delving into unchartered waters. Honesty will let them know that government cares about them and that public sector employees are allies, not overlords. Communicate that even if things don’t work, at the very least, solutions should be transformative.
Government’s job is to absolve the public of specific problems. When government doesn’t handle problems, it falls on the individual. A solution: incorporate human-centered design. Viewing a problem through the eyes of constituents can produce a solution that is met with positive feedback. Constituents use the products that government produces, so it only makes sense to make them a part of the fine-tuning process.
In some situations, public sector employees may never need a service that they are providing, so, how can they understand the pitfall of using said product? Speaking to users and integrating their feedback will give the public a better perception of government.
The worst thing about trying new things is failure. Creativity isn’t always rewarded with success and new programs do not produce astounding results overnight. When you try something that doesn’t work, don’t go back to the way things were. “Work through the new thing that may not be working yet, but when you get proficient at it, will be better,” Weiss instructed.
Becoming more adaptive can keep us out of competency traps. By adopting a more adaptive mindset, we will learn to evolve when we fail, rather than give up or resort back to old ways of thinking.
The status quo isn’t always satisfactory. So, the next time your team needs to develop a solution, embrace Possibility Government. See what can work rather than what has always been the norm. Once you move out of your comfort zone, your work will feel more invigorating and you’ll enjoy what you’re doing.
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