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

Slouching Towards Not Slouching

"A straight back may be said to be an element of beauty," wrote D. F. Lincoln , a physician in Philadelphia, in 1896. "Round shoulders and a twisted spine are an element of the opposite quality, beyond a doubt."

Lincoln was writing to sound the alarm that the posture of America's youth was becoming increasingly "deformed" thanks to a trend that had recently swept the nation: universal public school.

If only he could see us now, literally leaning in within our cubicles by day and slumping over our Netflix-streaming laptops by night. Many of today's workers could use a Knickerbocker shoulder brace more than the Victorian dandies it was designed for.

I myself am the picture of the modern, white-collar slouch. It started in high school and got worse when I became a journalist and had a laptop grafted to my wrists. The many emotional benefits my profession confers come at a physical cost: carpal tunnel, eye strain, and sort of a permanent, dull ache in my trapezius. In grad school I nearly solidified into a gargoyle by sitting at the little tables at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and editing audio files for hours.

It got so bad...

The Case For Being Average

People often read what I have to say and then write asking for my advice.

But even though I write about lots of things I am expert in only one thing: programming in a computer language called APL. I owe all my financial success and a good deal of personal joy to that funny little language, and if you want to learn how I did it and how you can toothen go here.

So how have I been able to succeed in writing on these other subjects?

The answer came to me a few weeks ago as I was reading a book called How to be Averagely Successful at Comedy by my friend Dave Cohen. The promotional text bills it as a “practical and funny book explaining how to make a living at comedy” and it certainly is that. But it is also a very entertaining look at what has happened to comedy from Monty Python onward. But its broadest appeal comes from the fact that it is an insightful “how to” book on having an awesome life even if you are just average—whether at comedy or anything else.

At the bottom of page eight it hit me...

What Do We Really Know About Building Cross-Agency Networks?

As millennials join the workforce, they are bringing their propensity for social networking with them. As a result, network-centered approaches to doing work will likely become more prevalent.

Government and nonprofits have already been pioneering the use of collaborative networks during the past two decades to solve complex societal challenges, such as cleaning up waterways, preventing child abuse, serving the mentally ill and reducing smoking. Much of this groundbreaking work has been done without a roadmap that shows what works and under what circumstances using networks is more effective than relying on traditional hierarchies or the marketplace to achieve public goals. The literature to guide practitioners is growing rapidly, but there are no guideposts on what to read and what to pay attention to.

Now there is a place both experienced network leaders and neophytes can go to learn more.

The IBM Center for The Business of Government digests the key academic literature of the past decade in a special report, “Interorganizational Networks: A Review of the Literature to Inform Practice by Janice Popp, Brinton Milward, Gail MacKean, Ann Casebeer and Ronald Lindstrom. This report has been under development for several years, largely as a labor of love, to synthesize...

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Everyone Else At Work

Years ago, I had a boss I disliked; he got under my skin so badly that his ghost haunted me years after I’d quit working for him and started my own company. I didn’t realize how thoroughly he’d occupied my unconscious mind until I woke up, five years into running my business, and saw the signs everywhere that while I thought I’d built a company that reflected my personal values and priorities, I had made many of my decisions in an absurd, belated rebellion against him. Where he had been relentlessly self-promotional to the point of arrogance, I resisted marketing. Where he had bought into rapid, exponential growth as the only path to business success, I refused to hire help even though I was working myself to the bone.

A decade after my wake-up call, I hear echoes of the same “comparison-itis” in the entrepreneurs and creative professionals I coach and advise: Entrepreneurs stifling their marketing attempts out of a terror of being “that guy.” Dislike of a particular colleague’s sales approach turns into a rejection of the entire notion of developing a sales system. And I can’t count the number of musicians I...

There’s a Huge Hidden Downside to Standing Desks That No One Told Me About

It wasn’t fear of cancer, heart attacks, diabetes or even early death that did it. The reason I switched to a standing desk was, simply, to find a reprieve from pain. Since I graduated from college, back pain and its cruel confederates—neck, shoulder, and hip pain—have been unshakable facts of life. I’m not talking about the odd lumbar throbbing after a late night at the office; low-grade agony was pretty much a given, flaring into something more blinding a few times a month. Workday, weekend, vacation—it didn’t really matter, nor did the number of treadmill miles or chaturangas I’d banked that month.

Then in May, I read about how a standing desk helped allay a blogger’s chronic back woe. I was sold. I set my iMac on top of a small table on my home desk and put in a request for a standing desk at work. Vindication was almost instant. Within a week, my back pain started receding; a month on, and I’d almost forgotten about it. Aside from a weird hip glitch in August, the back pain is still mostly gone.

But in its place came something new. Fetching...

We Drafted Our Own Dream Team to Tackle Government's Biggest Problems

Have an alternative team? Share it on Twitter at #DreamTeam

It may or may not take a village to raise a child, but it does usually take a crack management team to get anything done in the federal government. Here at Government Executive, we’ve thought a lot about the leadership qualities that contribute to successful initiatives. While others play fantasy football, we decided to play a round of fantasy management. Here are some of the folks we’d love to see on any leadership team tackling the kinds of big problems only government can address. 

(Top image via Jeff Thrower /

Precrastination: Worse Than Procrastination?

Do you park in the first spot you see, even if it means a longer, grocery-laden walk back from the store later? When unloading the dishwasher, do you quickly shove all the Tupperware into a random cabinet, thereby getting the dishes-doing process over with faster—but also setting yourself up for a mini-avalanche of containers and lids?

In a recent study published in Psychological Science , Pennsylvania State psychologists coined a new term for this phenomenon: Precrastination, or "the tendency to complete, or at least begin, tasks as soon as possible, even at the expense of extra physical effort."

To test the human capacity to precrastinate, researchers David Rosenbaum, Lanyun Gong, and Cory Adam Potts led 27 college students to an alley where there were two yellow plastic buckets filled with pennies—one on either side. On one side, the bucket was closer to the participant, and on the other, it was closer to the other end of the alley. The participants were asked to pick up either the right or left bucket, whichever seemed easiest, and carry it to the end of the alley.

To their surprise, most participants chose the bucket that was closer to them, but further from...

OPM Needs a Mission—Not a Funeral

From the archives of Government Executive…

September 1994—The death knell has sounded, and the long knives are dripping blood. The only question that seems to remain is, “When is the funeral?”

That’s what the pundits are saying about the Office of Personnel Management, the much-maligned arbiter of the rules and regulations on the hiring, firing and retiring of federal workers. Although it stopped far short of calling for OPM’s demise, Vice President Gore’s National Performance Review report painted a picture of an agency pitiably adrift, flailing about “to find its identity.” The NPR has strongly recommended a complete cultural overhaul of the place, while seriously doubting the agency’s ability to pull off such a transformation.

More recently, in these pages, columnist Paul Light cited OPM’s dwindling resources and organizational confusion in proposing what appears to many to be the logical next step: abolishing OPM and dispersing its essential functions—retirement and insurance processing, Title 5 compliance checking, centralized job information, etc.—to other agencies. (See “Management Focus,” March 1994.)

OPM’s identity crisis began when the agency was established in 1979 with a strangely mixed bag of missions that confused client agencies and OPM...

Great Organizations Build on Their Successes

On Monday, the Partnership for Public Service presented eight Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals to exceptional public servants for their contributions to our nation and the world.

Their accomplishments include saving the lives of millions of children by persuading developing countries to use vaccines, identifying and prosecuting Medicare fraud and partnering with the private sector on space travel.

I realize award dinners are common, but at the Partnership, we believe this event is significant for two reasons.

First, it’s important because this award program is designed for federal civil servants, and let’s be honest, there aren’t too many organizations out there lining up to applaud government. Just last year, on the heels of pay freezes, furloughs and hiring freezes, the Service to America Medals were ironically, but meaningfully, held during the government shutdown.

Government leaders—probably because they want to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollar—don’t spend a lot of time or resources on employee recognition, and it has an impact. Federal workers don’t feel recognized for their work. Only 40 percent express satisfaction with the level of recognition they receive, compared with 64 percent of private sector workers.


Who You Marry Affects Your Success at Work

If you want a promotion or a happier work life, you might do well to examine your choice of a life partner.

Unromantic as the motive may be, people with a conscientious spouse were 11% more likely to get a promotion, and the likelihood that they would have a higher income and higher levels of job satisfaction increased with higher levels of “spousal conscientiousness,” according to a new study out of Washington University in St. Louis.

Researchers analyzed data that 2,272 couples in Australia provided over five years, as part of the country’s national household income and labor dynamics survey. On the 2005 survey, the respondents answered questions about their personalities, and their job success was tracked over the next five years.

What makes a “conscientious” partner, you ask? He or she can embody a range of qualities, including being organized, efficient, goal-oriented, persistent, or punctual, says lead author Brittany Solomon.

Conscientious people are good for their spouse’s work success for a few reasons, she tells Quartz. For example, in the same way that you may outsource a job at work, a wife who works may feel that she can outsource certain household or personal responsibilities to...