• Encouraging Strategic Thinking

    by  • April 30, 2010 • eGovernment

    Open government, Gov 2.0, and eGovernment all continue to move forward. To where it is we are headed, I am not convinced that anyone really knows.  We all use larger then life terms like “open”, “transparent”, “efficient”, “effective”, “engaged” and others to describe this utopian future. But so far, no one has really been able to describe to me in concrete terms what the next version of government and citizen looks like and why it really is better.  I guess what bothers me so much is it sounds a lot like Utopia and I am wondering if we all haven’t had too much of the kool-aid.

    In one of my previous and more fun roles, I served as a strategic planner the Office of the Secretary at the Department of the Interior among other things I did. I can’t say I did a lot of strategic planning – political appointees quickly dispensed with any efforts we did in developing a real strategy – but I learned a lot and tried a lot.

    I also collected and read a number of books on strategy and future thinking. I heard the joke so many times that a future thinking government was an oxymoron that I lost track. But it didn’t matter. I collected and read strategy books. I think it is important that government programs be proactive instead of reactive, of which a strategy is a key aspect. Besides, what else was there to do on the Metro ride home?

    The books I read covered a broad swath of strategy and futures thinking – from Sun Tzu to Machiavelli to Porter to Schwartz to Ringland and many others. Some of the books where better, some were pretty bad, and some provided a lot of value to if you were willing to dig through all of the crap and mine the diamonds that were buried there.

    That being said, I think a lot of Gov 2.0, eGov, and Open Government leaders would benefit from reading some of the classics on strategy and the future, and then going out there and actually starting from the end outcome and building a strategy to get there.  This should affect how they drive innovation and change within their organizations and how they look at engaging with the citizen.

    Which classics should you read? Below is what I would consider my top 5 specifically applicable for government and those involved in the Open Government/Gov 2.0/eGov effort.

    HBR’s Must Reads On Strategy
    – This is a great compilation of some of the top articles out of HBR on strategy. It includes almost all of the classics by Porter, Collins, Powers, Kaplan and Norton, and more. There is a lot of commercial and business focus in this little book, but there is also a lot for government leaders to learn from.  By the way, it wouldn’t hurt also to take a look at HBR itself on a monthly basis.

    Strategy Safari by Henry Mintzberg – This is a great book to both get an overview of some of the best thinking in the field and how to actually apply it. The ten themes of the field of design, planning, positioning, entrepreneur, cognitive, learning, power, cultural, environmental, and configuration are all applicable to how we go about deciding what the outcome of Open Government should be and how we get there.

    The Way of Innovation by Kaihan Krippendorff – This fabulous book is a different way of looking at strategy. The book combines strategy with creativity and innovation, something that is sorely needed in this effort as we try to manage changes in technology, culture, and our organizations forward. Though I am not a fan of the “Ancient Chinese” methods that supposedly pull from Taoism and Buddhism, I think Krippendorff makes some great points and has some great ideas around admitting we are stuck in certain mental models, that there are other options out there, what resources are available/necessary, developing a new innovation path, and making the change sustainable.

    Art of the Long View by Peter Schwartz
    – This is a book that I first read almost 15 years ago and it remains one of my favorites. I admit I am biased towards the work that Peter Schwartz did at Shell and later through the Global Business Network on scenario planning and enabling strategic conversations, I still think that this is a critical book to shifting government leaders thinking on the future. I think we need scenarios about what the future of the government citizen relationship could look like. I think we need to have and encourage strategic conversations about how we get there.

    Yes, there are other books I could have or should have included here including classics like Sun Tzu, Blue Ocean Strategy, Scenarios in Public Policy, and Perspectives in Strategy. But this is a good starting point that almost anyone can get into.

    The Bottom Line: I love the story about how the TSA Blog originally came to be. According to the story, one of the former TSA Directors finally got to the point that he told his staff that if they didn’t create a blog for him, he would go out and begin commenting on other people’s blogs. That blog, through the dedicated efforts of so many at TSA, is now one of the best government blogs out there. And the story might be an urban myth, but it is a great story that turned out okay. But many times that type of happy ending is the exception, not the rule.

    Clearly we need to think about the tactical – what database we put online and in what format or even what platform we use for a blog – but we are lacking when it comes to the strategic conversation. These books and learning’s from strategic management form a starting point for us to start thinking more strategically – beyond the next blog entry, beyond the next event, beyond the next stream on facebook.