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Branding: 5 Lessons to Get Your Federal Startup Off the Ground

Since November 2014, I've been working to brand a public-private government initiative called the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The NNMI is a collection of advanced manufacturing technology R&D institutes, each focused on a particular technology. The term "advanced manufacturing" means new and improved materials, made in new and improved ways (i.e., connected to the Internet).


These institutes matter because the USA has been slowly losing the know-how to manufacture its own inventions for the past 15 years. Flat-screen TVs and lithium-ion batteries are just two examples.

And very often, as with robots, the means to make a thing can also become a product in and of itself. The industrial robot that assembled a car can also be the robot that serves as a personal companion. 

These technologies, when successful, have enormously wide-ranging capabilities. 3-D printing, for example, is a means to produce everything from the aforementioned cars to prosthetic limbs. Intelligent fabric can make a bulletproof T-shirt or a bikini that tells you when you're about to suffer a sunburn.

The Vision

Freedom. "Make it here, sell it everywhere." It's easy to depend on buying cheap foreign-made products on demand. And that's...

Why the War on the IRS Makes No Cents

The Internal Revenue Service appropriations bill has started its tortuous path through Congress—and it savages the agency’s funding. It provides 8 percent less than the current level and 22 percent less than the administration’s request. It’s less even than its budget 25 years ago when, as the Office of Management and Budget pointed out, “there were 38 million fewer taxpayers and a far less complicated tax code.”

It’s hardly surprising that the IRS faces congressional ire. Republicans still remember the way the agency mishandled requests for tax exemptions by Republican-leaning groups. And tax reform has surged to the top rank of issues that the army of the party’s candidates propose to do something about.

Of course, the tax collection business has never been easy. The Gospel of Matthew describes how Jesus dined at the home of a known tax collector and asked him to join his band of apostles. Jesus explained he had come to call sinners. Many observers concluded he got that characterization right—and the position of tax collectors hasn’t improved any since. For millennia, attacking revenuers has been good politics.

But it’s not always good government. For better or...

The Senate's Bathroom-Stall Index

ASPEN, Colo.—Women now account for 47 percent of the American workforce, 52 percent of professional and management employees, and 57 percent of newbachelor’s degrees. But even after gains in the 2012 election, they remain just 20 percent of the Senate.

That, however, was enough to create a “traffic jam” in the women’s restroom reserved for senators, which had just two stalls, recalled Senator Amy Klobuchar. She joined with Maryland’s Senator Barbara Mikulski to press for renovations. “The architect of the capitol presented a certain number of stalls, and we told him that it wasn’t acceptable, because it was a glass ceiling,” she said. It forms an unconventional index of progress toward parity. Today, there are four stalls; Klobuchar clearly hopes that this, too, will soon prove inadequate.

It’s a favorite anecdote for the senior senator from Minnesota, frequently deployed as part of her disarming, often self-deprecating humor. She trotted it out again on Sunday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, during a broad-ranging conversation with the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacson. And it plays to Klobuchar’s proven knack for offering personal anecdotes and levity in the service of more serious points.

Klobuchar used...

Should Government Do Away With Annual Performance Reviews?

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “Reinventing Performance Management,” Deloitte is redesigning its performance management system on the notion that it “is increasingly out of step with [the company’s] objectives.” Specifically, Deloitte feels it drives neither employee engagement nor high performance. This has generated a lot of discussion.

Deloitte’s new system will not contain annual employee reviews, nor will it have any goals that cascade down to the employee level. The feeling is that “once-a-year goals are too ‘batched’ for a real-time world, and conversations about year-end ratings are generally less valuable than conversations conducted in the moment about actual performance.”

Deloitte’s new system has three basic goals:

  • Recognize performance through variable compensation.
  • See performance clearly through a team leader’s actions with respect to each employee (e.g., would the supervisor award an employee the highest possible pay increase/bonus, would the supervisor always want the individual on his team.)
  • Fuel performance through weekly check-ins with employees.

The key component of the Deloitte’s new system is the conversations, with the idea being that multiple ongoing conversations are likely to provide richer feedback, and are more likely to drive increased performance than...

The World’s Workforce Will Stop Growing by 2050

report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (registration required) this week offered interesting insights in to the world in 2050, including the prediction that Asia will be home to over half the world’s economic growth, and that China’s economy will surpass America’s in 2026.

Amid all this talk of growth is a little-noticed but startling fact—by 2050 the world will all but stop producing an increase in workers. Over the next 35 years, the labor force’s average growth rate is expected to be just 0.3%, and at the end of the period it almost disappears. In the previous 35 years, that figure has averaged 1.7%.

Even more concerning, as workers dry up, the general population will continue to grow:

This is important, and dangerous, because it is the working population that, typically, creates value, contributes tax dollars, and earns income that can be spent taking care of those not working (the elderly and the young).

But global figures alone don’t tell the whole story. Countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are expected to grow their labor forces dramatically by 2050, while developed nations are likely to see theirs shrink.