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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Making Good Mistakes

The true test of your leadership character isn’t measured by the absence of mistakes, but rather by the mistakes made in pursuit of growth and learning and how you conduct yourself once you’ve made a mistake.

Show me a mistake-free leader, and I’ll show you someone hiding from the real issues confronting the business: people and strategy.


People are complicated. In spite of myriad assessment tools at our disposal, selection is still a judgment call with all of the inherent risks and biases of human decision-making. And the challenge of aligning skills and experiences with tasks while searching for that spark that stimulates people to work at their creative best is truly much more art than science.

You will make mistakes on people. Make them for the right reasons. Taking a chance on good people for the right reasons is worth the risk every day.

Remember, character always gets a positive vote. After a certain age, character is formed and nothing you can do will alter someone’s core character. You cannot change someone. Assess character carefully. Look for behavioral examples around values, and if the view is dissonant, it’s a nonstarter.

Passion and desire ...

Who Wins in the Name Game?

I was at a party for Bastille Day in Paris a few years back, and we were leaning over the balcony to watch the fireworks. A cute French girl sat next to me, but after a few flirty glances the moment was entirely ruined with the most basic of interactions: “What’s your name?” she asked in French. “Cody,” I said.

That was it. We were done. “Co-zee?” she said, sounding out the entirely foreign name, looking more disgruntled with each try. “Col-bee?” “Cot-ee?”

I tried a quick correction, but I probably should’ve just lied, said my name was Thomas or Pierre like I did whenever I ordered take-away or made restaurant reservations. Not being able to pronounce a name spells a death sentence for relationships. That’s because the ability to pronounce someone’s name isdirectly related to how close you feel to that person. Our brains tend to believe that if something is difficult to understand, it must also be high-risk.

In fact, companies with names that are simple and easy to pronounce see significantly higher investments than more complexly named stocks, especially just after their initial public offerings when information on the stock’s fundamentals ...

Ditch the Memo for a Dashboard: How to Show Your Program's Progress

In today’s environment of diminishing resources and high expectations for performance, it is increasingly important for federal managers to be able to demonstrate the success of their programs to important decision-makers. There are a few ways to demonstrate your program’s success:

  • You could write a report or memo that will get lost in the shuffle of other similar-looking memos and reports
  • You could develop a PowerPoint presentation with text heavy bullet points and hope for the opportunity to brief it to someone of importance
  • Or, you could focus more on telling a compelling story

But how do you tell a compelling story without straying into the far-too-familiar territory of copious amounts of paper? Consider a visual representation of your success in the form of a dashboard, a series of graphics that show progress toward individual milestones and the connections and linkages between metrics.

If your program is built around quantifiable metrics or milestones (if it isn’t, it should be!), these metrics may lend themselves to building charts or line graphs to show progress.  You could even consider more complex graphics showing more than two data points and how they relate to each other to really show the ...

What Corporate America Is Learning About Keeping Workers Happy

You can hear it in the game rooms of Google's Chelsea office, smell it from the ice cream shops on Facebook's Menlo Park campus, and see it with yoga mats aligned on the rooftop of OpenDNS: We are living in an Age of Peak Perk. (Some of us, anyway).

While it's reasonable to consider benefits like free rental cars and dry-cleaning somewhat extreme, there might be a method to perk-madness.

In a 2012 paper, Wharton's Alex Edmans showed that, controlling for factors like industry, firms listed in “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” have outperformed their peers in annual stock market growth by up to 3.8% since 1984. To make sure causality wasn't running the wrong way —i.e.: great stock performance making workers happy—Edmans restricted his study to future returns (e.g.: "by relating satisfaction in December 2001 to stock returns in 2002").

This finding carries an interesting suggestion. Maybe these companies aren't being too generous. Instead, perhaps less indulgent firms are punishing their shareholders by withholding their workers' Essential American Right to free quinoa salad.

If you're like me, this finding might strike you as too good ...

Innovation the NASA Way: What’s Your Mission?

One question often asked by readers of Innovation the NASA Way is the obvious:  “How can I bring the lessons learned from these chapters into my workplace? I don’t work in a matrix-managed organization and I don’t have limitless budgets at my disposal.” It is a legitimate question, and one that deserves explanation beyond the book.

NASA, always innovative, has experienced two periods of extreme excellence with the quality and speed of solutions implemented to meet the enormous challenges it faced. The first period was the space race, roughly 1957 to 1972, the desperate effort to catch up with the Soviet Union’s impressive accomplishments in space. The United States would later exceed these accomplishments by landing humans on the moon and exploring it. This period was unique in that the resources were vast—5 percent of the federal budget and a combined workforce of almost 400,000 people were marshaled to meet the challenge.

A second period of impressive achievement was a descendant of the first, a quieter race to beat the Russians in robotic, unmanned exploration of the solar system, which lasted roughly from 1962 to 1988. It began with the first robotic exploration of Venus ...