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

Six Tools for Communicating Complex Ideas

Every business leader is, in a sense, a teacher.

“Not in the sense that their job description says teacher; not in the sense that they stand up in front of a lecture hall,” says Mitchell Petersen. “But their job will entail communicating ideas to others, convincing them the ideas are right—convincing them that this is the right way to think about a problem.”

As a professor of finance at the Kellogg School and an expert in empirical corporate finance, Petersen spends a lot of his time trying to convince people about how to think about problems.

He offers up these six tools to help you communicate complicated ideas to audiences—whether you are sitting down for a one-on-one, leading a company all-hands meeting, or just trying to make sense of something yourself.

1. Data 

Data provide a detailed, and dispassionate, characterization of what has occurred previously. As such, data serve as the foundation for predictions about the future. Before financial experts began collecting daily data on stock prices, returns, and dividends, for example, nobody had a sense of how typical stocks performed over time—and thus how they might be expected to perform going forward.

“The beauty of data...

Misuse of Office Resources Could Cost You Your Clearance

I used to wonder why federal agencies found the need to imprint the following language on all their envelopes: Official Business Only – Penalty for Private Use $300. Then I became a defense attorney and quickly discovered that there are a lot of people in the world who really do need to need that reminder. Fleecing the taxpayers is a booming enterprise.

Unfortunately for federal employees and contractors, not all misuses of government resources are as obvious as the “Official Business Only” warning. And there can be severe consequences for those accused of misusing resources even unintentionally. Here are a few common examples that federal employees and contractors should keep in mind:

Social Networking At Work

If you are surfing the Web or otherwise not working for an extended period of time, billing the government for that time could land you in hot water. In this day and age, all federal employees and contractors should assume that their agency or employer is monitoring their computer activity and act accordingly. Believe it or not, I have seen cases where an employee’s security clearance is revoked for this type of behavior. 

Using an Official Vehicle for Personal Business

I was recently getting...

Top Recruiter: There’s One Good Way to Answer That Question About Your Biggest Weakness

This question originally appeared on QuoraIn a job interview, is your answer to “What’s your biggest weakness?” a perfect humble brag opportunity? Answer by Ambra Benjamin, engineering recruiter at Facebook.

I’ll begin by saying: This is a terrible interview question, but it is one you will be asked during your career, so it’s best to be prepared with some type of response. For starters, absolutely do not humblebrag when asked this question. It is incredibly trite. As ubiquitous as the interview question may be, imagine how many times an interviewer has heard the following answer, “I can be too much of a perfectionist.” Even just typing that, I almost threw up in my mouth a little bit. A close runner-up in the “humblebrag about my weakness” category is, “I take on too much responsibility and don’t delegate.”

I want to make it clear that not delegating and being a perfectionist are absolutely real weaknesses. Failure to delegate can lead to balls being dropped and inability to prioritize tasks or be a team player. Perfectionism can be debilitating and cause severe procrastination. But neither of these are answers you should give when discussing your weaknesses, and...

How Can Government Buying Match the Best in Business?

The category management initiative, started under the leadership of former Office of Management and Budget executive Anne Rung, is expanding to help the federal government buy goods and services in a similar way leading companies operate.

Category management is used by businesses and governments around the world to better manage their common purchases. The approach involves defining a clear strategy for spending on common items or services within a category, which in turn leverages buying power across that category to generate a price discount, additional services that reduce total cost of ownership, and other sources of value. This approach encourages agencies to buy through common contracting vehicles and allow purchasing decisions to be managed centrally by specialists who know how to find the best services or products at the best price. In addition to leveraging the government’s buying power, category management reduces duplication in contracting.

A recent study by ASI Government suggests that when used effectively, this approach can generate cost efficiencies of 7.5 percent to 12 percent of total procurement spending. For the federal government, this could result in more efficient spending of up to $40 billion a year, if category management is widely adopted. In the...

Psychology Suggests That Power Doesn’t Make People Bad— It Just Reveals Their True Natures

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Donald Trump boasts of sexually assaulting women in the recently leaked Access Hollywood tape. “You can do anything.”

Of course, the power that comes with celebrity does not—and should not—permit anyone to hurt other people. But Trump’s comments are in line with an essential finding of psychological research: The more power people get, the more freedom they feel they have to be their authentic selves, acting consistently with their goals and values. In other words, power isn’t inherently corrosive. It simply brings our true nature out into the open.

One study that I conducted with Serena Chen and Dacher Keltner, psychology professors at the the University of California, Berkeley, aptly illustrates this phenomenon. We asked some participants to think of a time they had power, and some participants to think of a time they had lacked it. This put them in a correspondingly powerful or powerless mindset.

Directly following this prompt, we asked participants what they are like around three important social groups they belong to—such as their friends, family, and co-workers.

When participants were primed to think of a time they lacked power, their...

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