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

Riding the Acquisition Innovation Avalanche

You know a transformation is afoot when the Navy chooses as its acquisition chief a man known as “Hondo,” who is famous for an Iron Man exoskeleton project and a “Thunderdrone” UAV tournament.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James “Hondo” Geurts is the father of SOFWERX, the U.S. Special Forces Command’s technology incubator, where the super suit and the drone coliseum are housed. SOFWERX is dedicated to fomenting creative collisions among divergent thinkers, and Geurts is the personification of the most expansive explosion of innovative in federal acquisition in a quarter century.

As Geurts often says, we are in the Age of Surprise. Timelines are shorter. The technology gap between the United States and its adversaries is disappearing. The Armed Forces need to be able to respond as quickly to unforeseen problems as the ones they’ve trained for. They must bring multiple perspectives to bear on challenges mounting at an ever-increasing pace. Shaping government procurement for the Age of Surprise is a primary focus of the Trump administration. “To succeed in 21st century geopolitical competition, America must lead in research, technology, and innovation . . . We must harness innovative technologies that are being developed...

AI Is Already Learning How To Discriminate

What happens when robots take our jobs, or take on military roles, or drive our vehicles? When we ask these questions about the rapidly-expanding role of AI, there are others we’re often overlooking—like the subject of a WEF paper released this week: how do we prevent discrimination and marginalization of humans in artificial intelligence?

Machines are increasingly automating decisions. In New York City, for instance, machine learning systems have been used to decide where garbage gets collected, how many police officers to send to which neighborhoods, and whether a teacher should keep their job. These decision-making technologies bring up equally important questions.

While using technology to automate decisions isn’t a new practice, the nature of machine learning technology—its ubiquity, complexity, exclusiveness, and opaqueness can amplify long-standing problems related to discrimination. We have already seen this happen: A Google photo tagging mechanism, for instance, mistakenly categorized people as gorillas. Predictive policing tools that have been shown to amplify racial bias. And hiring platforms have prevented people with disabilities from getting jobs. The potential for machine learning systems to amplify discrimination is not going away on its own. Companies need to actively teach their technology to not discriminate...

Say Goodbye To The Information Age: It’s All About Reputation Now

There is an underappreciated paradox of knowledge that plays a pivotal role in our advanced hyper-connected liberal democracies: the greater the amount of information that circulates, the more we rely on so-called reputational devices to evaluate it. What makes this paradoxical is that the vastly increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous. Rather, it renders us more dependent on other people’s judgments and evaluations of the information with which we are faced.

We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the ‘information age’, we are moving towards the ‘reputation age’, in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know.

Let me give some examples of this paradox. If you are asked why...

7 Requirements for Successfully Managing Government Reform

The Trump administration is expected to unveil a plan in the coming weeks to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies. The goal, as expressed in a memorandum to agencies from Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in April 2017, is to create a leaner, more accountable, and more efficient government.

As a result of this and other recent reform initiatives, many federal managers are fundamentally rethinking how to meet their missions. There is much room for reform, and many of today’s legacy approaches for delivering government services and executing missions should be reconsidered in the face of new operating models and innovative technologies that are transforming service delivery in the commercial sector.

While I am hopeful we will see some promising reform plans emerge in the coming weeks, I’m not as optimistic about their chances of sustained  success. Despite people’s best efforts and intentions, many reform efforts fall short of their goals. In my experience as a long-time government leader and private sector consultant, I have found that public sector transformation initiatives can be successful if pursued the right way. There is a methodology to transformation that significantly increases the likelihood that reforms will...

Why The Typical Performance Review Is Overwhelmingly Biased

The traditional performance review is a confidential, closed-door meeting between no more than two people. Research suggests it is also totally misguided.

Though we may think we’re making accurate, objective assessments during a performance review, the social and brain sciences have shown that bias is still baked into the brain.

Studies, for instance, have indicated that as much as 62% of a rater’s judgment of an employee is a reflection of the rater, not the person getting reviewed. Despite this, survey data from a recent summit we hosted on performance management indicated that 57% of companies weren’t doing anything to remove bias from their performance reviews. It’s no wonder companies that prize traditional reviews are quickly becoming dinosaurs.

Yet these evaluation decisions are among the most important processes that a manager is asked to do, and the consequences can make or break not only an employees’ contributions to a team, but a career. Digging into the research, it’s clear the smarter review process needs a less-biased approach: one based on crowdsourcing.

What the science says

The traditional review structure assumes that leaders who have tracked an employee’s behavior over a certain period of time...