Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.
ARCHIVES

150 Years Ago, a Renowned Philosopher Called Busyness the Sign of an Unhappy Person

If you’re reading this on your phone, rushing to the subway while hunting for your headphones, then you need to stop. At least, that’s what Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher who lived at the beginning of the 19th century, would advise. Last week, brainpickings pointed out just how relevant Kierkegaard’s writings on busyness are to our lives today.

And indeed, as we race from the office to the gym to a dinner, proudly showing off our jam-packed schedules, it’s worth remembering Kierkegaard’s warnings about busyness from centuries ago. He wrote:

Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy—to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work… What, I wonder, do these busy folks get done?

Stephen Evans, a philosophy professor at Baylor University, explains that Kierkegaard saw busyness as a means of distracting oneself from truly important questions, such as who you are and what life is for. Busy people “fill up their time, always find things to do,” but they have no principle guiding their life. “Everything is important but nothing is important,” he adds.

Without answering crucial and terrifying questions about life...

How Poor Communication Fosters Distrust in Government

People nowadays don't trust the government. Maybe you think they shouldn't trust the government. Frankly, sometimes I don't trust the government. And sometimes, unfortunately, that mistrust is well-placed. (Just pick up any newspaper.)

Most of the time, though, we government employees are a pretty decent bunch. Hardworking, honest, and we genuinely want to help. We want to make a difference, even if it's a small one. But something often gets in our way—we don't control the system.

To a much larger extent than people appreciate, the structure of society determines how the individuals within it behave. Imagine a country with ineffective, corrupt, or absent police. How would that affect your feelings and behaviors around self-defense? Or how about living under a religious dictatorship. Would religion be appealing?

Culture is a manifestation of structure. It is "the way we do things around here," and it reflects the values underpinning our system of law.

Back to government.

Often people lament the poor quality of government communication versus the private sector. In fact, the 2010 Plain Writing Act was passed as a way of addressing the problem, by "forcing" agencies to speak clearly.

Half a decade later...

Benchmarking: A Practical Guide for Federal Agencies

Mission-support functions are integral to an agency’s operations. These administrative or back-office functions—acquisition, financial management, human capital, information technology and real property—are normally managed as cost centers. Managed well, using advanced technologies and analytics, they have the potential to transform an agency’s operations and reap substantial cost savings, allowing managers to put more resources into mission delivery.

Over the years, agencies have been increasingly focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of mission-support functions. Benchmarking, which enables a clear comparison of the cost and performance of the same function across different organizations, can play a critical role in this.

The Obama administration launched a cross-agency initiative, Benchmark and Improve Mission-Support Operations, which aims to establish governmentwide cost and quality metrics across mission-support functions—contracting, financial management, human capital, information technology and real property. Currently, in its third year of data collection, it provides a significant opportunity for the next administration to build on the effort. The data could inform policy decisions, provide a platform for agencies to share best practices and lessons learned, and provide agencies with useful diagnostic tools and resources.

To truly benefit from the effort and make it sustainable, it is important for...

The Science of Keeping Your Cool Around Co-Workers Causing You Stress

One Sunday afternoon, Nancy, an executive in the tech industry, got a call from an irate colleague. She’d made a business decision that he didn’t approve of, and his response was to shout and curse at her over the phone: “You’re so stupid. What an idiotic thing to do. You stupid ****.” He plowed on without pausing to let her speak, with barely a breath between insults. It was the kind of onslaught that would have even the most centered among us rocking backward on our heels.

But Nancy kept her cool in the face of his anger. “I started making a tally of the number of times he used each rude word–making a little mark each time he said ‘stupid’ for example,” she told me, a small smile on her face. “He said ‘stupid’ 27 times.” Keeping the tally allowed her to get some emotional distance from his verbal attack, which helped her stay calm.

“When he finally stopped talking I simply told him politely why what I’d done was in fact the right thing,” she recalled. He was floored by her composure. “I think he’d really hoped to knock me sideways, but I...

Americans Are More Likely Than the Rest Of the World to Believe Hard Work Pays Off

Big cars, high-volume sports, immense portion sizes. The US is different from other countries in many ways. Here’s another: Americans are more likely than most people to believe that hard work pays off.

In a 2014 Pew Research Center survey of 44 countries, 73% of Americans deemed hard work “very important” to getting ahead in life. Only 60% of Brits, and 49% of Germans, shared the sentiment, with the global median hovering at around 50%.

The same survey found that 57% of Americans polled disagreed with the notion that success in life is determined by forces outside one’s control, versus the global median of around 38%.

Americans Stand Out on Individualism

The nation’s religious fervor also sets it apart from other wealthy, developed countries, with over half of Americans claiming that religion is “very important in their lives,” according to Pew. (In comparison, fewer than 20% of Brits felt the same.)

US stands out as rich nation highly religious

Meanwhile, a separate Pew survey on Americans and religion, released on April 12, has unpicked the ways in which religion affects day to day life in the US.

While the researchers did not find differences between highly religious and less religious adults in terms of their approaches to health, diet, and...