Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lean Government

TLDR: Two things: 1) Uncle Sam (and I) want you to be an entrepreneur inside the US Federal Government as a White House Innovation Fellow. 2) All video from the SXSW Lean Startup track is now available for free.

At SXSW in 2011, I had a really unusual breakfast meeting. First of all, it was at 7am on a Sunday, when almost everyone at SXSW was asleep. Second, it was the day after the first SXSW Lean Startup track, and I was exhausted. Third, one of the people at the meeting worked for the President of the United States. (I was seriously hoping he had not seen any of those t-shirts that had debuted the day before. You know the ones I mean.)

The meeting was arranged by Tim O'Reilly, one of my personal heroes. (Like me, he didn't look so good at that hour of the morning.) We were there to talk to Aneesh Chopra, then the CTO of the United States, and Todd Park, then the CTO of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). They wanted to tell me about work they were doing to make the federal government more entrepreneurial. When I left the meeting, I pulled Tim aside and said "are they serious? is this for real?" He said, something like, "watch and see for yourself." 

Fast forward a year later. It's SXSW again, and I have a chance to pay it forward. This time, it's me arranging breakfast. I invited Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit and another one of my heroes, to breakfast. It's uncomfortably early. Aneesh is there again, recently retired from government. Todd is there too, having just been appointed his successor as CTO of the United States. And again, we have an amazing time talking about how the government could radically change how it works, to become more innovative, to work with entrepreneurs from outside and find inside "intrapraneurs" that are already trying to get things done. After the meeting, Scott Cook pulled me aside and asked me, "are they serious? is this for real?" It was my first chance to really reflect on what had happened in the intervening year. I replied, "Scott, we had almost this exact meeting last year. I was extremely skeptical. But, just as Tim O'Reilly predicted, almost every single thing we talked about last year has actually come to pass. These guys made it happen."

Later that day, Todd Park presented a keynote at the SXSW Lean Startup track. He nearly blew the doors off the room. The applause afterwards left me stunned. Almost everyone in the room began the session as skeptics and left cheering. Todd's presentation talked about real-life specific examples of times and places they have put Lean Startup principles into action inside the world's largest bureaucracy.

But you don't have to take my word for it! Because I'm extremely pleased to announce that all of the videos from the 2012 SXSW Lean Startup track are now available, for free, from Udemy. That's 18 full videos of case studies and talks including Scott Cook, Steve Blank, Airbnb, Etsy, and much more. To give you a taste, here is the complete talk (including slides and video) by Todd Park:

(If the embedded player doesn't work for you, here are links to Todd's slides and the newly released video.  You can sign-up here to see the rest of the SXSW videos on Udemy.)

One of the things that impressed me the most at that initial meeting, was a program that Todd and Aneesh pioneered at HHS called "Entrepreneurs-in-Residence." This program paired entrepreneurs from the private sector with intrapreneurs from inside HHS to small high-impact startup teams with a big vision but a time-limited mandate (often six months or less). And that's not six months to write up a cool business plan. That's six months to build an MVP, test, iterate, and launch a real product. This program is where many of the success stories that Todd shared on stage came from, including  the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the FDA. His stories and specific examples of "lean government" in action left the audience with a simple message: if they can do Lean Startup in government, what's my excuse?

One of the wild-eyed ideas that came up at breakfast was Todd's vision that he could roll out the this entrepreneurial model across the entire federal government. He enlisted me as an enthusiastic supporter, and I've been working with his team since then to try and help them make it a reality. And that's exactly what's about to happen. It's called the White House Innovation Fellows, and the program is now open for applications. That means you!

For a lot more information on the program, you can see this incredibly in-depth blog post over at O'Reilly Radar.

I think this is an amazing opportunities for entrepreneurs to serve their country by using their uniquely valuable skills. We're at the beginning of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way huge organizations work, by cultivating the practice of entrepreneurial management. If you want to be part of making that future, I hope you'll consider applying for the program.

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