Introducing the Government Innovation Manifesto

As I work more and more with government innovators, I’ve learned that despite the fact that we come at it from many different angles, there is a common ethos and camaraderie. We’re all after the same thing: to improve government to better serve the governed.

They say we get the government we deserve. We say let’s earn that right to deserve the government we get by contributing to improving it.

To that end, Brenda Wallace and I wrote the Government Innovation Manifesto to bring these aspirations together in actionable statements.

The main headings:

  1. Government innovators are everywhere
  2. We innovate to improve our society
  3. Innovation is a team sport
  4. There are rules
  5. Innovation is risky
  6. Innovation is hard
  7. We are change agents

Read more at The Government Innovation Manifesto.

Building the entrepreneurial community we want to live in

What are the foundations of a great national entrepreneurial community?

After the Startup Weekend NZ National Hui in 2015, I drafted a plan based on feedback from the hui’s unconference.  It included:

Vision:  Every New Zealander has the ability, tools, and networks to become an entrepreneur

Mission: To provide access to the community, experiences, and support that emerging entrepreneurs need to succeed, working directly with entrepreneurs as well as with other organisations.

Values:

  • Community leadership:  Our members – our key resource – are Community Leaders. We believe that a successful startup ecosystem depends on supporting and bringing out the best in those willing to contribute. As leaders in our field, we set an example by the way we work with others, and help others become leaders. We’re confident in who we are, and willing to help, support, and encourage those whose values are aligned with ours. We put the mission before our own glory.
  • Reciprocity: Once we’ve committed, we’re in – our partners can count on us, and vice versa. We are transparent and honest with each other, partners and constituents, and expect the same from them.
  • Responsive, mindful, and enabling: We are responsive to community needs, and enable others to move purposefully and quickly.  We use lightweight and flexible infrastructure to achieve this.
  • Lasting value: We’re in this for the long-term future of New Zealand and its entrepreneurs. We measure the impact of our outcomes, seeking constant improvement in the things that matter.

I suggested that we could achieve our mission and vision by:

  • Providing experiential education for entrepreneurs, including Startup Weekends, and shorter form workshops
  • Building and developing entrepreneurial communities, bringing people of all stripes together, and being a catalyst for serious shifts in the landscape, especially outside the main centres
  • Connecting entrepreneurial communities locally, nationally, and globally, forging better ties across geographic boundaries, sharing our resources, time, and experience for the betterment of all
  • Working on improving startup policies to nurture an environment in which startups can thrive
  • Celebrating entrepreneurship through programmes like Global Entrepreneurship Week

And to make it all happen, I suggested that we could engage in partnerships with:

  • Entrepreneurs and their startups
  • Local and central government
  • Universities and other tertiaries
  • Accelerators, incubators, and coworking spaces
  • Other allied organisations, such as Youth Enterprise Trust, the Innovation Council, NZTech, the Angel Association of New Zealand, and more.

I believe that the governance of an organisation executing this plan should be transparent, diverse, egalitarian, and democratic, and that financially it should be organised as a not for profit, ideally with charitable status.

The plan languished for a year, and was never adopted – it was a bridge or three too far for the other directors. Even though the plan has stalled, I’m still very keen to make it, or something similar based on the same values, happen.

Others have expressed very similar ideas, including Dan Khan, Pascale Hyboud-Peron, Lenz Gschwendtner, Peter Thomson, Jane Treadwell-Hoye, Sarah Day, Colart Miles, and Ants Cabraal. Although our expression is slightly different, there is a large degree of congruence and alignment.

I look forward to working with similarly minded people and building that entrepreneurial community we want to live in, so that we can move New Zealand to the next stage.

Are you in?

Join the discussion in the comments below, or on Twitter hashtag #startupcommunityvalues

 

Farewell, Julian Carver

Very early this year, one of my closest friends, Julian Carver, died. This post told the story of his death from my perspective, along with my learnings from the experience.

Sadly, one of Julian’s surviving family members has asked me to remove this post, as “it’s too soon”.  In respect to them, I have removed it.

The bottom line is that we all need to do a better job of looking after each other.

Be kind to each other people.

Recycled wisdom – on empathy and success in business

In my work at WebFund, we regularly have young entrepreneurs approach us with interesting ideas, but a distinct lack of maturity.  Vivek Wadhwa recenty wrote on TechCrunch that “when it comes to startups, old guys rule”.

Ill be 50 next year, and it’s getting ever harder to argue that I’m not becoming an old guy of some description.  No matter.  George Bernard Shaw observed that youth is wasted on the young, and there’s no doubt he was already an old guy by that stage.

On my last day of employment as Technical Director at The Web Limited in 2002, I gathered the team and tried to impart what I’d learned about business in the previous seven years.

I thought it was worth revisiting in light of Wadhwa’s old guy remark, in the hope that my comments, though somewhat didactic, might be able to confer some vicarious wisdom and maturity on the reader.

Empathy is the key to success. It took me a very long time in life to realise that everything we do is all about relationships, and a relationship without empathy is hollow… While this is especially true in business, it is also true in every other sphere. As an example, if you’re a programmer, you’re all the more powerful if you can empathise with your client, with the programmer who wrote the method you’re trying to get to work properly, with future programmers who will have to maintain your code, with the project manager, and a really good programmer will be able to empathise with the code itself (“If I were the regular expression parser, how would I want to handle this string?”)

Do not fear the unknown. Pull yourself out of your comfort zone. Set ridiculous goals for yourself, and visualise the future in your ideal state – you’ll be surprised what you can actually accomplish.

Nurture your own weird ideas. They could be important or even valuable next year. In the words of Hunter Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Be broadminded. Listen to everyone, try to empathise with them, and understand their point of view. Do not be too quick to judge, for some of the best ideas are the weirdest at first glance.

Keep it simple. You should be able to explain anything in a couple of sentences, or draw the diagram on an A4 page. Things that are too complicated tend to break and are difficult to maintain. A Ferrari breaks down more often, and is much more expensive to fix than a skateboard. Don’t confuse being complex with being complicated.

Make yourself understood. When you’re writing code, anyone, even a non-programmer, should be able to understand what it does, and how it does it, at some level. The key to this is good structure, descriptive naming, and the right comments. 99.9% of the time, maintainability is much more important than performance. If it’s getting too complicated, refactor it. If it’s too complex, rethink your approach.

Make time for distractions. Many of the world’s great discoveries, including America, X-rays, penicillin and post-it notes, were serendipitous in their nature – they happened unexpectedly as a by-product of other, less successful undertakings. In the words of Louis Pasteur, “Chance favours the prepared mind”. If you don’t let yourself be distracted occasionally, you’ll miss out on the biggest opportunities.

Constantly sniff for the winds of change, for if you’re unprepared, they can come through like a southerly. Don’t be complacent, or you’ll be consigned to the scrap heap of people who got too comfortable and woke up one morning to find themselves unemployable – I have a number of colleagues from my mainframe days who suffered this fate. Ask yourself: will my plan withstand the next set of changes? Expect things to be totally different one day, which will likely arrive sooner than you think.

Plan for contingencies. There is always a Plan B (sorry, Andy Grove!) In the rules of the universe, the default Plan B is abject failure. Make sure you have something slightly more explicit and favourable as your plan B.

Most truly great things require a lot of effort, often in unexpected ways. No pain, no gain. You have to give a little to get a little. The corollary to this is that you have to give a lot to get a lot. Be generous. Generosity is in your enlightened self-interest.

It is certainly true that 95% of the effort goes into 5% of the outcome, but it’s the last 5% – good or bad – that they’ll remember you for. Prioritise your efforts accordingly. It may be built like a brick shithouse, but if you didn’t have time to put on the final coat of paint, they will be left with a lingering dissatisfaction.

Know when to yelp for help – your team is right here and right behind you, and they empathise with you. They will help you, and they will expect the same from you. If you don’t understand something the first time, ask patiently for it to be explained again.

Keep positive – things are seldom as bad as they seem. But when they get to be as bad as they seem, they’ll probably become worse than they seem. Even then, in the words of Charles Beard, “When it gets dark enough, you can see the stars.” These moments offer unparalleled opportunity for personal growth.

Always attribute credit where credit is due. It costs nothing. Few things more distasteful than people masquerading other people’s ideas as their own. In academia, plagiarism is the worst sin.

I recommend parenting as excellent training for business. You learn how to motivate the unwilling, the importance of unconditional love, multitasking, balancing conflicting goals, teamwork, leadership, how to be comfortable with your own hypocrisies … and the list goes on. My brief career as a Playcentre dad taught me more than I’ll ever want to know about the politics of small organisations run by people with too much time on their hands.