Finding the Silicon Valley Within
By Andrew Wilson
Last week, I attended the 2012 Mobile Health Conference put on by BJ Fogg and Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab . Each year, the event focuses on a topic at the intersection of behavior change and mobile health technology. The theme of this year’s conference was Baby Steps for Big Results . This message, that major changes are more likely to be successful through a succession of small steps, was primarily targeted toward the entrepreneurs and startups that made up the bulk of the audience. Nonetheless, many of the observations and ideas shared at the meeting had relevance for those of us looking to foster a culture of innovation within government.
Avoid the Big Brain Trap
One of the recommendations shared at the very start of the conference was to avoid making enormously complex plans that require weeks, months or even years of planning before actually launching something that can actually be tested with real users. The fact is that nearly all successful services, platforms or apps started as something simple and small.
Get Something Working - Then Build and Improve
Failing fast is a concept that was discussed often at the meeting and is even something I have spoken on previously. BJ added a caveat to this idea with his statement that failure is only interesting once you have something working. Failure at the very beginning is demoralizing and also hard to learn from. It is far better to get something very small working first - then fail.
More (Frequency) is Better
The idea of constant iteration and improvement is major part of the solution for solving the scaling challenge. It is fairly intuitive that you will learn more from doing 25 - 4hr trials than you will from 1 - 100 hr trial. Wherever possible, consider how you can break up large problems into small ones and how you can sequence through the solution.
Finally, the good news is that this idea of blending the best government has to offer with the entrepreneurial spirit of silicon valley is catching on even in the riskiest of fields. On my drive back from the conference to the airport, I happened to catch a piece on NPR about the collaboration between SpaceX and NASA to jumpstart privately-funded space travel. Although the cultures of these organizations and their staff seem very different on the surface, one of the NASA managers noted that in many ways SpaceX reminded him of how NASA operated when it was first getting started.
So, I’d like to challenge everyone in government to consider ways that we can find a little of the spirit of Silicon Valley within each of us.
|Andrew Wilson is the New Media Strategist for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. His full office location acronym is HHS/SAMHSA/OA.|
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