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

What Government Really Can Learn from Business

President Trump campaigned on running government more like a business. Now that he’s in office, what should he—and the department leaders he appoints—do to make federal agencies run more like America’s most successful companies?

It can’t be just about minimizing spending. Amazon become one of the most valuable companies in the world while spending feverishly, pumping its revenues back into the company.

It can’t be just about efficiency. Do you think Apple became the success it is because of efficiency? Do you think Kodak, Blockbuster or Sears stumbled because of inefficiency?

And it can’t just be about innovation. Lots of innovative startups launch every year, but only a few survive.

So what do leading businesses do? One of us (Manzi), in working with dozens of Fortune 500 companies over the last 20 years, noticed a common thread among the most successful firms: They embraced what we call “disciplined innovation.” That means they were willing to subject every new product or business program to a rigorous test. In business lingo, they always ran an A/B test.

For example, when Kohl’s was considering adding a new product category—furniture—many of the department-store...

Should I Acknowledge My Weaknesses With My Boss?

Q: We all have weaknesses—how much should you acknowledge and apologize for them with your manager, and how much should you try to fix them on your own?

Dear Working Hard,

You don’t need your boss’s blessing to go out and hone your talents and insights in areas where you’re looking to improve them. There are plenty of opportunities—formal or otherwise—that you can capitalize on to drive personal and professional development. For example, if you’re a natural-born marketer, why not spend some time hanging out the software development team to learn better ways to promote your product? If you’re a software developer, why not spend more time with colleagues in advertising and sales to discover new features or solutions you might add that could create value and new opportunities for customers?

Instead of focusing conversations with your manager (or, for that matter, with yourself) around shortcomings, it’s important to refocus them on creating opportunities for you to leverage your personal strengths, while also boosting productivity and performance.

Think of it this way. As a leader, which would you prefer: An employee who comes to you apologizing for underperformance or lack of...

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...