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

How Environment Can Boost Creativity

It took F. Scott Fitzgerald nearly a decade to finish Tender is the Night, his semi-autobiographical novel about the physical, financial, and moral decline of a man with nearly limitless potential. While working on the novel, Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, moved between France, Switzerland, and the United States, eventually spending eighteen months at La Paix, an old country house north of Baltimore that he rented while Zelda was treated for schizophrenia at a nearby clinic. The Turnbull family owned the estate, and Andrew Turnbull, who was 11 at the time, later recounted Fitzgerald’s stay in his biography, Scott Fitzgerald.

While at La Paix, Fitzgerald worked in dark, disheveled rooms with a bottle of gin in a nearby drawer. He took short walks and came back to hand-write his ideas on notepads scattered on his desk. He also loved to sneak the Turnbulls’ homemade wine.

“Dazed and wan, he shuffled about the shut-in, unwholesome house in bathrobe and pajamas, pondering his next move,” Turnbull recalls in the book. “Returning to his study, he penciled [his thoughts] down in his rounded, decorous hand on yellow legal-sized paper. Interrupting him at work, I remember the illumination of his eye, the sensitive ...

So Many Risks, So Little Time

“By some estimates, taking out just nine critical electrical substations could plunge the whole nation into darkness,” says Jason Black, a researcher at Battelle Institute. This scenario, of course, keeps the leaders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission awake at night. What is their risk management strategy?

Other federal agencies also face a wide range of risks. Some are external, others are internal. Some are financial (such as having to deal with managing under sequestration or the market impact on external investments in pension funds, which could affect federal pension guarantees). Some are operational, such as those faced by FERC, or cybersecurity threats, or even insider threats. And some are reputational, such as recent accusations of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office telework abuse and the scandal over lavish conferences at the General Services Administration.

In recent years, a number of federal agencies have put in place risk management strategies. Recent guidance from the Office of Management and Budget says “agencies are expected to manage risks and challenges related to delivering the organization’s mission.” Also, a professional association has evolved—the Association for Federal Enterprise Risk Management—so professionals can share insights and best practices. Yet there is no ...

Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

Several years ago, I was invited to give my first public speech, and I made the mistake of saying yes. I was terrified: as a student, my heart used to race at the mere thought of raising my hand in class. For weeks beforehand, I had nightmares about forgetting my lines, waking up in a cold sweat. No matter how much I practiced, for the three days leading up to the speech, I could hardly breathe.

During the speech, nothing went terribly wrong. I was relieved… until I read the feedback from the audience. Here were some highlights:

  • “Try not to be so nervous. You looked like a Muppet and it seemed like you memorized every single sentence for the presentation.”
  • “It seems like you're reading off a teleprompter. Breathe!! Too mechanical.”
  • “You were so tense that you were causing me to physically shake in my seat.”

In the past year and a half, I’ve given over 100 keynote speeches and hundreds of presentations, and things have changed dramatically. I still get nervous occasionally, but public speaking is now one of my favorite activities. Here are the five steps that have been most helpful in reducing my anxiety ...

CEOs See a World Where They’re More Intimately Involved in Your Health

In the United States, companies pick up a great deal of the bill for a healthcare system that spends the most but accomplishes the least among industrialized nations. Getting wise to this, more employers have rolled out wellness programs, where workers are encouraged with either a carrot or a stick to make better healthcare choices.

Now, a group of prominent CEOs including Coke’s Muhtar Kent, Aetna’s Mark Bertolini, and Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan are recommending that employers get further involved in employees’ health decisions.

In a report released yesterday through the Bipartisan Policy Center, they and other members of the group’s CEO Council on Health and Innovation advocated for a world where companies have programs to address physical activity, emotional health, and chronic conditions. Where employees have online wellness coaches, and companies provide screening at the workplace. Where people are incentivized to take health questionnaires, and to provide the company’s healthcare partners with a wide variety of data, like blood pressure readings, blood glucose measurements, and cholesterol levels, as well as markers of their weight, nutrition, and physical activity.

The report encourages companies to begin tracking, anonymizing, and sharing the data so that employers ...

A Formula for Perfect Productivity: Work for 52 Minutes, Break for 17

Sometimes, productivity science seems like an organized conspiracy to justify laziness.

Clicking through photos of cute small animals at work? That's not silly procrastination, Hiroshima University researchers said. Looking at adorable pictures of kittens rolling helplessly in balls of yarn heightens our focus, and the "tenderness elicited by cute images" improves our motor function on the computer.

Going on long vacations? You're not running away from your responsibilities. Studies show that long breaks from the office reboot your cognitive energy to solve big problems with the mental dexterity they deserve.

Working from home? Shut down your boss's rude accusations that you're too slothful to put on a pair of pants in the morning by handing him this 2013 study of Chinese call-center employees, which found that "tele-commuting" improved company performance. (Actually, don't hand it to him. That would require going into the office.)

The scientific observation underlying these nearly-too-good-to-be-true findings is that the brain is a muscle that, like every muscle, tires from repeated stress. Many of us have a cultural image of industriousness that includes first-in-last-out workers, all-nighters, and marathon work sessions. Indeed, there are many perfectly productive people that go to the office ...