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Hacking the federal workweek


This post was originally published on FedScoop on July 24, 2012.

In 1998, renowned science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson wrote an essay called “Why I am a Bad Correspondent,” in which he describes why he spends as little time as possible directly interacting with readers.

“Writers who do not make themselves totally available to everyone, all the time, are frequently tagged with the ‘recluse’ label. While I do not consider myself a recluse, I have found it necessary to place some limits on my direct interactions with individual readers…

Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all…

The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent..If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.”

Creative workers like artists, writers and software developers need unbroken periods of time in order to make their products. For many, it’s mandatory. Four one-hour blocks interspersed with four one-hour conference calls is very different than a solo creative period from 8 a.m.- 12 p.m and a team brainstorming session from 12 p.m.- 4 p.m.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame called these two styles of work — unbroken slabs of time vs. numerous shorter meetings — the “maker schedule” and the “manager schedule” in a classic 2009 blog post.

Graham describes how most of the people who make a tech startup run — programmers — operate on maker time, but how their bosses and the venture capitalists can screw everything up by scheduling a meeting on manager time.

In my experience, startups, large companies, and government agencies are not so different in this respect. People who run things tend to be managers operating on a manager schedule with manager metrics of success, and some of the people who work for them are creatives who wish to operate on a maker schedule but have a hard time doing so (because of the managers).

As a maker within a bureaucracy, you may discover tricks for hacking the managers. At Microsoft, I have discovered that with planning I can block off entire mornings in my calendar for 2-3 days in a row, in order to write things like what you’re reading now or simply relax and think about a tough challenge, feeling comfortable that the nearest meeting on my calendar is hours and hours away.

Another hack I’ve learned is using Sunday for creative work and then taking Friday “off.” I feel perfectly fine about taking the occasional six-hour lunch with friends because I was smart enough to find an unbroken six-hour block of time to actually get something done.

Any creative will tell you that this stuff works. Relaxing your mind and focusing on something is often when you become free to discover insights that really matter and can set you apart as an employee.

“But wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “Mark Drapeau has some kind of special arrangement.” Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have flexibility built into my job, but I have to deal with countless meetings and conference calls just like anyone else working in a bureaucracy. The flexibility to hack your schedule lies along a spectrum.

Earlier this month, July 4th fell on a Wednesday, thus many Federal employees worked Monday and Tuesday, had Wednesday off, and then returned to work Thursday and Friday before another weekend. You may call this a Federal holiday; I call this a “natural experiment” involuntarily hacking Federal employees’ calendars from a manager schedule to a maker schedule.

On Twitter, my Microsoft colleague Alfred Thompson tweeted, “2 days of work followed by a single day of holiday and going back for 2 more days of work is just weird.”

In reply, his acquaintance Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who works on education reform, said, “What if it was the norm? What if we took the mid week day to do deep personal learning each week? Think of what we could [accomplish].”

If you’re an enlightened federal manager, here’s a hack for you: What if you made the first Wednesday of every month “independence day” for your team — a 100% unscheduled day on maker time?

Maybe some people would abuse such a privilege and accomplish nothing. But in the vein of Google’s famous “20% time” where employees can pursue projects they’re personally interested in, I wonder what innovations might come out of a monthly “independence day” during which people could learn a new skill like Python programming or mastering Pinterest, attend an interesting luncheon event outside the office, or just read that strategy book they bought months ago?

Working as I do for the company that actually makes Outlook, you can imagine that Microsoft employees are pretty good at using it to schedule meetings with each other. It’s deceptively easy to get caught up in a series of meetings and conference calls and feel like you had a full day. But the real question is, did you “make” anything interesting today?

Everything I’ve done that I’m proud of, or that people have noticed, has been done on a maker schedule. But working within a manager schedule, I’ve had to hack my life to find the time to make things happen.

What are some of your federal workweek hacks for getting creative things done?

In 1998, renowned science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson wrote an essay called “Why I am a Bad Correspondent,” in which he describes why he spends as little time as possible directly interacting with readers.

“Writers who do not make themselves totally available to everyone, all the time, are frequently tagged with the ‘recluse’ label. While I do not consider myself a recluse, I have found it necessary to place some limits on my direct interactions with individual readers…

Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all…

The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent..If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.”

Creative workers like artists, writers and software developers need unbroken periods of time in order to make their products. For many, it’s mandatory. Four one-hour blocks interspersed with four one-hour conference calls is very different than a solo creative period from 8 a.m.- 12 p.m and a team brainstorming session from 12 p.m.- 4 p.m.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame called these two styles of work — unbroken slabs of time vs. numerous shorter meetings — the “maker schedule” and the “manager schedule” in a classic 2009 blog post.

Graham describes how most of the people who make a tech startup run — programmers — operate on maker time, but how their bosses and the venture capitalists can screw everything up by scheduling a meeting on manager time.

In my experience, startups, large companies, and government agencies are not so different in this respect. People who run things tend to be managers operating on a manager schedule with manager metrics of success, and some of the people who work for them are creatives who wish to operate on a maker schedule but have a hard time doing so (because of the managers).

As a maker within a bureaucracy, you may discover tricks for hacking the managers. At Microsoft, I have discovered that with planning I can block off entire mornings in my calendar for 2-3 days in a row, in order to write things like what you’re reading now or simply relax and think about a tough challenge, feeling comfortable that the nearest meeting on my calendar is hours and hours away.

Another hack I’ve learned is using Sunday for creative work and then taking Friday “off.” I feel perfectly fine about taking the occasional six-hour lunch with friends because I was smart enough to find an unbroken six-hour block of time to actually get something done.

Any creative will tell you that this stuff works. Relaxing your mind and focusing on something is often when you become free to discover insights that really matter and can set you apart as an employee.

“But wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “Mark Drapeau has some kind of special arrangement.” Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have flexibility built into my job, but I have to deal with countless meetings and conference calls just like anyone else working in a bureaucracy. The flexibility to hack your schedule lies along a spectrum.

Earlier this month, July 4th fell on a Wednesday, thus many Federal employees worked Monday and Tuesday, had Wednesday off, and then returned to work Thursday and Friday before another weekend. You may call this a Federal holiday; I call this a “natural experiment” involuntarily hacking Federal employees’ calendars from a manager schedule to a maker schedule.

On Twitter, my Microsoft colleague Alfred Thompson tweeted, “2 days of work followed by a single day of holiday and going back for 2 more days of work is just weird.”

In reply, his acquaintance Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who works on education reform, said, “What if it was the norm? What if we took the mid week day to do deep personal learning each week? Think of what we could [accomplish].”

If you’re an enlightened federal manager, here’s a hack for you: What if you made the first Wednesday of every month “independence day” for your team — a 100% unscheduled day on maker time?

Maybe some people would abuse such a privilege and accomplish nothing. But in the vein of Google’s famous “20% time” where employees can pursue projects they’re personally interested in, I wonder what innovations might come out of a monthly “independence day” during which people could learn a new skill like Python programming or mastering Pinterest, attend an interesting luncheon event outside the office, or just read that strategy book they bought months ago?

Working as I do for the company that actually makes Outlook, you can imagine that Microsoft employees are pretty good at using it to schedule meetings with each other. It’s deceptively easy to get caught up in a series of meetings and conference calls and feel like you had a full day. But the real question is, did you “make” anything interesting today?

Everything I’ve done that I’m proud of, or that people have noticed, has been done on a maker schedule. But working within a manager schedule, I’ve had to hack my life to find the time to make things happen.

What are some of your federal workweek hacks for getting creative things done?

- See more at: http://fedscoop.com/hacking-the-federal-workweek/#sthash.wby4B0N1.dpuf

In 1998, renowned science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson wrote an essay called “Why I am a Bad Correspondent,” in which he describes why he spends as little time as possible directly interacting with readers.

“Writers who do not make themselves totally available to everyone, all the time, are frequently tagged with the ‘recluse’ label. While I do not consider myself a recluse, I have found it necessary to place some limits on my direct interactions with individual readers…

Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all…

The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent..If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.”

Creative workers like artists, writers and software developers need unbroken periods of time in order to make their products. For many, it’s mandatory. Four one-hour blocks interspersed with four one-hour conference calls is very different than a solo creative period from 8 a.m.- 12 p.m and a team brainstorming session from 12 p.m.- 4 p.m.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame called these two styles of work — unbroken slabs of time vs. numerous shorter meetings — the “maker schedule” and the “manager schedule” in a classic 2009 blog post.

Graham describes how most of the people who make a tech startup run — programmers — operate on maker time, but how their bosses and the venture capitalists can screw everything up by scheduling a meeting on manager time.

In my experience, startups, large companies, and government agencies are not so different in this respect. People who run things tend to be managers operating on a manager schedule with manager metrics of success, and some of the people who work for them are creatives who wish to operate on a maker schedule but have a hard time doing so (because of the managers).

As a maker within a bureaucracy, you may discover tricks for hacking the managers. At Microsoft, I have discovered that with planning I can block off entire mornings in my calendar for 2-3 days in a row, in order to write things like what you’re reading now or simply relax and think about a tough challenge, feeling comfortable that the nearest meeting on my calendar is hours and hours away.

Another hack I’ve learned is using Sunday for creative work and then taking Friday “off.” I feel perfectly fine about taking the occasional six-hour lunch with friends because I was smart enough to find an unbroken six-hour block of time to actually get something done.

Any creative will tell you that this stuff works. Relaxing your mind and focusing on something is often when you become free to discover insights that really matter and can set you apart as an employee.

“But wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “Mark Drapeau has some kind of special arrangement.” Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have flexibility built into my job, but I have to deal with countless meetings and conference calls just like anyone else working in a bureaucracy. The flexibility to hack your schedule lies along a spectrum.

Earlier this month, July 4th fell on a Wednesday, thus many Federal employees worked Monday and Tuesday, had Wednesday off, and then returned to work Thursday and Friday before another weekend. You may call this a Federal holiday; I call this a “natural experiment” involuntarily hacking Federal employees’ calendars from a manager schedule to a maker schedule.

On Twitter, my Microsoft colleague Alfred Thompson tweeted, “2 days of work followed by a single day of holiday and going back for 2 more days of work is just weird.”

In reply, his acquaintance Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who works on education reform, said, “What if it was the norm? What if we took the mid week day to do deep personal learning each week? Think of what we could [accomplish].”

If you’re an enlightened federal manager, here’s a hack for you: What if you made the first Wednesday of every month “independence day” for your team — a 100% unscheduled day on maker time?

Maybe some people would abuse such a privilege and accomplish nothing. But in the vein of Google’s famous “20% time” where employees can pursue projects they’re personally interested in, I wonder what innovations might come out of a monthly “independence day” during which people could learn a new skill like Python programming or mastering Pinterest, attend an interesting luncheon event outside the office, or just read that strategy book they bought months ago?

Working as I do for the company that actually makes Outlook, you can imagine that Microsoft employees are pretty good at using it to schedule meetings with each other. It’s deceptively easy to get caught up in a series of meetings and conference calls and feel like you had a full day. But the real question is, did you “make” anything interesting today?

Everything I’ve done that I’m proud of, or that people have noticed, has been done on a maker schedule. But working within a manager schedule, I’ve had to hack my life to find the time to make things happen.

What are some of your federal workweek hacks for getting creative things done?

- See more at: http://fedscoop.com/hacking-the-federal-workweek/#sthash.wby4B0N1.dpuf

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Microblogging Needs to Be Decentralized and Reliable


This post was originally published on Huffington Post Tech on January 20, 2010.

This morning I woke up to find that Twitter was down. The website tells you in a really cute way, with a little “fail whale” – it’s so sweet. But why is this lack of reliability tolerated by governments, large corporations, emergency workers, and other serious people?

Mashable.com reports that the best theory for the downtime was a deluge of tweets caused by a second Haiti earthquake. A second earthquake in Haiti? No offense to Haiti, that is a horrible situation, but imagine if we had a really, really serious situation (say, the Pentagon the Golden Gate Bridge get hit by drones controlled by terrorists) – could you rely on Twitter?

I’m still surprised that no serious competitor to Twitter has emerged. Sure, companies like Google or Microsoft, or others, could just buy it, but they’d be purchasing an unreliable product with questionable customer service and a cute children’s language and a steep learning curve.

Where’s the competitive product for 50 year old insurance salesmen? For UN relief workers?

Sure, Twitter could improve. I use it. I don’t really want to see them fail. But if, as they claim, they want to make it “communications infrastructure” (a lofty goal to think they will be the next AT&T), then it needs to be decentralized and partially redundant. Email doesn’t just “go down” and neither does RSS. People like Dave Winer can write much better about this than I can, but here’s one brief post by entrepreneur Andrew Baron about decentralizing Twitter for you.

Two years ago, when I first started using Twitter to study its use for the government, I thought that it was a great new tool which was potentially useful for unified communications in a crisis. Two years later, little has changed. It’s useful when it works.

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You Worry About Powerful Registered Lobbyists; I’ll Worry About Powerful Unregistered Non-Lobbyists


Today the Washington Post ran a story about how the Obama administration will bar registered lobbyists from sitting on the nearly 1,000 advisory panels to the Federal government. These are panels of subject matter experts with named like the Defense Science Board who conduct studies that the government doesn’t have time to perform, and provide subject-matter expertise the government doesn’t necessarily have.

These new rules about lobbyists sitting on Federal advisory panels will be ineffective at “curbing negative influence” on the government for at least two reasons.

One, lobbying firms will find simple ways around the new rules. They will change people’s job descriptions, alter the number of hours they spend lobbying on behalf of clients, and other maneuveurs to make employees eligible for advisory panels under the new rules, in cases where it is important. Tom Daschle is the ultimate example of effectively lobbying without being an actual registered lobbyist. New people will also be hired as non-lobbyists to sit on these boards in situations where it makes sense to have a presence on them.

Two, unregistered non-lobbyists can be just as influential, devious, and self-interested as registered lobbyists. There are many people who have all kinds of special interests that do and will sit on these boards, and they will use the information they glean from them in ways that may help the country, but may also help them. And a great many of these people work in the private sector. Is there anything wrong with that? Not necessarily, it’s just that it’s not much different than what lobbyists do. And more dangerously, an unregistered non-lobbyist is much closer to a wolf in sheep’s clothing – you don’t see them coming until it’s too late.

My biggest problem with stories like these is that they report the ‘action’ (ban lobbyists) but spend little if any time talking about the ‘reaction’ (skirting the rules to get what you want anyway). But the reaction is at least as important, if not more so. Stories like the one in the Post make me think of a terrorist who defeats a billion dollar spy satellite with a baseball cap.

In government, in business, in life, when the action is high-effort and the reaction is low-effort, it’s a loser.

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When Did Government Become a Business?


When did government become a business? I keep hearing government called a business, and business terms like “efficiency” creeps into the lexicon here among progressive Washington folk. Sorry, government is not a business any more than the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, or a public high school. Yes, they have some things in common, but so what? Governments do not even meet the most basic definition of a business. From Wikipedia:

A business is a legally recognized organization designed to provide goods and/or services to consumers. Businesses are predominant in capitalist economies, most being privately owned and formed to earn profit that will increase the wealth of its owners and grow the business itself. The owners and operators of a business have as one of their main objectives the receipt or generation of a financial return in exchange for work and acceptance of risk…The etymology of “business” relates to the state of being busy either as an individual or society as a whole, doing commercially viable and profitable work.

Besides the fact that governments generally don’t have customers and aren’t designed to compete within a market sector and usually don’t generate a profit, there’s a bigger problem with applying terms like “efficiency” to government. Governments are purposely designed to be inefficient! Do you really think that the whole checks-and-balances idea was done in the interest of efficiency? That the way the Senate operates is done in the interest of efficiency?

One of the smartest things I heard after I moved to Washington, DC was from a senior person at the Library of Congress. She asked the room, “How many of you think Congress is designed to pass laws?” Everybody raised their hand. She said, “Wrong. Congress is designed to not pass bad laws.”

Congress is inefficient for a reason, and to some degree all parts of government are. For all the complaining about gigantic, evil corporations not caring about their customers or the public at large, and in the middle of a recession in which greedy businesspeople nearly destroyed a global financial system, I can’t imagine why anyone would be eager to associate the word “business” with government. The government has enough issues, thanks.

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Gov 2.0 Event – “Open Government: Pages From the Playbook”


Today I’m attending a Government 2.0 unconference called Open Government: Pages From the Playbook at the MLK library in DC. If you’re not here, you’re missing out. Attendees are hearing from govies and contractors about how they are adopting the Administration’s directive on open government. I hear and read a lot in this area, and I’ve definitely heard some new stuff.

My favorite five-minute talk so far was from Virginia Hill of NIH-NIDA, who spoke about a project called “Drug Facts Chat Day,” which leverages the brand and scientific expertise of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to answer teens’ questions about substance abuse. It’s hard to reach audiences (of citizens) that are, shall we say, “shy” but they seem to be doing a great job.

Primary organizer Lucas Cioffi tells me that many govies who wanted to speak couldn’t make it for this initial event, and so there almost certainly will be another one. This is not only a great opportunity to hear a lot of quick talks from people working on open government in the trenches, but also a great opportunity for sponsors to get involved at a modest level.

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What Does Innovative Social Engagement Look Like?


As many of you know, I’ve been thinking about the topic of Government 2.0 a lot lately. Part of this topic deals with the multi-directional engagement between government and citizens. This is what the White House and others have termed a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government.

Unfortunately, the engagement for the most part is not very authentic nor meaningful. Boring “fan pages” on Facebook are one example I’ve written about, but there are many others. Often, engagement, when it does happen has so many rules associated with it, or such a high barrier to entry, or such a limited window as to be practically meaningless.

It seems to me that everyone can celebrate the fact that government entities merely have a YouTube channel here, a Twitter account there, or a Blogger profile some other place (the so-called “TGIF revolution“), or we can think a little harder about what the goals of citizen engagement really might be.

On the evening of Nov 2nd, I tweeted from my phone about a local restaurant, Co Co Sala, just as I was leaving. We had a nice experience, but the hostess had been a little, shall we say, disinterested in helping us? So I commented as much.

Less than a week later, the co-owner of Co Co Sala sent me an email and cc’d his general manager. He apologized for the treatment I experienced, assured me it was not policy, introduced me to the manager, and said he’d talk to his staff. It was a four-paragraph email. I’ve never met him before, and furthermore, my personal email is discoverable but not the most easy thing to find.

This is what real social innovation looks like. This is what customer service looks like. This is what true engagement with stakeholders looks like. I want to give this great lounge Co Co Sala a hearty shout-out for not only having a great product, but also really caring about their customers.

Now, imagine we weren’t talking about a restaurant here. Imagine we are talking about the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Patent and Trademark Office, or your Congressman. If you tweeted, would they see it? Would they care? Would they react in any way? I think the answer in many cases is no.

Let’s look at a sliver of data. According to TweetStats.com, the people behind the White House Twitter account reply to individuals less than 2% of the time, and seem to have never @ replied to any single more than once (i.e., they have never come close to a conversation). They re-tweet others’ tweets about 6.5% of the time, but they only seem to re-tweet other government accounts and the New York Times. Granted, there are more people tweeting about White House issues than Co Co Sala, but does the above data represent any caring in any way, shape or form?

The terrific TechPresident blog recently noted that actor Vin Diesel is the single most followed living person on Facebook – and that he recently passed up President Obama. Perhaps that’s because Vin Diesel’s Facebook fan page is awesome. He is engaged, his fans are engaged, and the tone is informal and fun. When did “serious and formal” become a substitute for “informative and meaningful” in government circles? Why is everyone scared of letting their guard down in public?

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Microsoft Public Sector: The Bright Side of Government?


My colleague Steve Lunceford from Deloitte called my attention to a new Facebook Fan Page that Microsoft Public Sector (government group) started, called “The Bright Side of Government.” From an initial glance, it looks pretty cool. First, there are a lot of nice features, including YouTube videos from Microsoft principals, and links to local and state governments using emerging technologies in new ways. There’s a theme to the page that’s greater than the Microsoft brand. And there are some links to other sites like Twitter and LinkedIn where people can connect deeper or converse with the people behind the site.

In the recent past, I’ve been somewhat critical of the Federal government’s Facebook Fan Pages; perhaps this “cause branding” tactic is something that Web and Public Affairs folks in the government should look at. For example, rather than have an EPA “Fan Page” (Who’s truly a fan of the Environmental Protection Agency? How many people wake up in the morning excited about new environmental regulations or inland waterway policy?), have a page devoted to news and information, and yes, fandom, over a larger movement: “Green for America, Green for Everyone” (or whatever).

Second, there is a call to action on the Fan Page. At the time I looked at the page, the status update stated: “Is your city/county/state/agency on Facebook? Share it with us so we can add it to the Bright Side Stars tab!” One of the biggest challeges I’ve faced as co-chair of the Government 2.0 Expo is finding local government success stories in the realm of social technology and new media; The bright Side of Government may become a resource people like me who are trying to plan well-balanced and thoughtful events in the Gov 2.0 space. People and groups that develop unique resources and generously give them to the community develop strong brand engagement with their communities.This isn’t a fair post, because I’m not looking at other companies. Who else in Microsoft’s sector (Intel, Apple, Cisco, Google…) has something similar, or worse? What about brands more generally, how does this effort by Microsoft Public Sector stack up?

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Social Networking: the Two Dirtiest Words in Government 2.0


Next week I’ll be speaking at a Sweets and Treats event called Social Networking: The Two Dirtiest Words in Government 2.0, which has been organized by Debbie Weil and is sponsored by Neighborhood America.

Sweets and Tweets features leading voices from DC’s diverse technology community talking about the use of social media by the public and private sector, from the White House and federal agencies to local startups. Previous events featured Mark Walsh on crowdsourcing and Andrew Wilson, who runs Flu.gov.

Neighborhood America is a terrific enterprise software company that has been doing cool things in the Gov 2.0 space before it was Gov 2.0, and Neighborhood America’s CIO Jim Haughwout will fly up from Florida to attend the event and mingle.

This is a private, after-hours event at the very cool Baked & Wired store in Georgetown. Attendees get free cupcakes, lots of time to mingle, and hopefully some food for thought about how social networking – those two dirty words – fits into the workplace, both within the government and beyond it.

Sweets and Tweets is Tuesday, November 17, 2009 from 7:00 – 8:15 PM, and you can get your tickets here: http://sweetsandtweets3.eventbrite.com/ (If you read about it here, use special discount code “sweeter3″ when you register!)

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Georgetown Professor Mike Nelson on Government Collective Intelligence at the ELC09 Conference


At the ACT/IAC Executive Leadership Conference (ELC) in Williamsburg, VA today, I got to hear from Mike Nelson, who’s a Visiting Professor of Internet Studies at Georgetown University. He spoke on a panel within the ELC “Innovation” track, and made what I thought was a great case for government innovating with social networking tools. [You may recall that I've previously written about how social networking is the underlying key to collaboration.]  The following is paraphrasing of Prof. Nelson’s thoughts.

We are drowning in a sea of information. In the future we will be encountering 50X as much information as we have now, and we’re already maxed out. How do we find the right piece of information, quickly, in any given future situation? The solution is, in essence, taking advantage of collective intelligence and using social tools to help share the best information with the people that need it. Working together helps to form a “group brain” that is a different paradigm than how we normally think about individualism and workflow. [My side note: How do we individually incentivize group thought?]

What’s the killer app for collective intelligence? This will change in the future, but right now it’s basically Facebook and Twitter, which can act as a powerful aggregation and filtering mechanism for finding the right information at the right time. Self-organizing systems of collective intelligence, as evidenced by organizations like IBM, are one part of solving the “collective intelligence problem.”

This quick post oversimplifies but hits the main points. It should also put Mike Nelson on your radar if he’s not already. Find out more about him here.

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Public Service Is Multi-Sector


This morning at the ACT/IAC Executive Leadership Conference (ELC)
there was a great panel about generational gaps, government
leadership, and social software moderated by Lena Trudeau of NAPA.

One highlight in my view was a statement about how “public service is
multi-sector’” made by GovLoop.com founder Steve Ressler. This was in
response to a thoughtful question about how he left his job at DHS in
order to work on GovLoop full-time in the private sector. The notion
is that Generation Y thinks about public service differently than
older generations. Rather than it meaning a 30-year career as a
Federal employee, it instead can mean public service in and out of the
government, in the government, non-profit, and for-profit sectors.

Such “social entrepreneurship” as exemplified by Tom’s Shoes (which
donates a pair of shoes to a child who needs them for every pair
purchased) and GovLoop (a social media knowledge network for govies)
can be expected as a future trend, particularly along smart younger
people in a weak economy.

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