Dear Fellow Innovators - An Open Letter to Those Seeking to Test New Ideas in Gov
As one of the Lead Instructors of the Ignite Accelerator (our internal innovation program), one of our jobs is to get teams excited to dive into their projects but also to set expectations. I sent a note hoping to do both. But this message could really apply to all those out there seeking to think differently and innovate within government. So today, as we kick off the first day of Ignite, and welcome our new teams on this three month journey, we hope this also resonates with those of you out there seeking to improve the way your program, office, or agency works.
Dear Fellow Innovators,
First, let us be among the many who welcome you to the family of innovators, change agents, and idealists who have joined us in the HHS Ignite Accelerator. Like others who came before you, you are here because you noticed a problem or an opportunity that affects how we do our job of ensuring the health and well-being of Americans. You are here because you feel compelled to solve that problem or take that opportunity and because you are willing to invest your time and efforts towards the search for value. Thank you. There is hardly a guarantee or expectation that you will find a solution in the next few months, but you will apply and learn a set of frameworks that will maximize your chances of discovering and validating a real solution to a real problem.
Expect to feel uncertainty and doubt; embrace them.
If it sounds like we are asking you to embark with us on a journey of discovery, and telling you that you are going on an adventure, then you are catching our gist. But in any true adventure, there will be uncertainty and leaps of faith that you'll need to take. The kind of methodology that we are going to walk you through is a combination of two relatively new schools of entrepreneurial and value-creating thought, but their foundations are rooted in the principles of the scientific method and evolution. That said, our method set is especially counter-intuitive to people who have grown accustomed to some typical models of success in government.
The discovery process is messy and uncomfortable; you should expect and accept ambiguity and confusion as a matter of course.
We will ask you to avoid your own instincts to jump to safe, tidy conclusions, we will make you question your own assumptions, and we will ask you to make sense of many different voices and data points.
So, we are asking you to be passionate about solving a problem, to be willing to try a new entrepreneurial management style, and to be open to failure. Sounds great! One unfortunate standard of success in a bureaucracy is to deliver a potentially useless but complete product on time and as expected at the outset; no one can ever argue about a project lead's competence if the project has met its plans (even if no one cares to use the resulting product). We have found that people who are confident in finding a solution to a problem will work passionately towards that end. Meanwhile, we have seen that pragmatic people have the humility to recognize and quickly accept when they are not on the right track and to switch course. Confidence and humility make a rare and valuable pair of traits because it's worse to complete a doomed product than it is to keep from building it in the first place. Put cynically, it's better to spend time validating nascent ideas than it is to waste time and money proving that you've been busy.
Your project will challenge you, and we are here to help.
Experiencing 48 project teams' worth of struggles, discoveries, and sometimes successes has taught us to trust a framework and teaching style. It has also taught us to wholeheartedly believe in your ability to take some basic education and coaching and to run wild. We are so humbled to have your engagement and enthusiasm, it really keeps us going. But, we are really here to help you, even when we know you might feel that we are doubting your ideas or jabbing you with unreasonable questions. Ultimately, we can only point to your short-term success as project teams and long-term success as individuals in order to claim any of our own.
Congratulations on making it this far, we are so excited to see what you learn.
With Respect and Gratitude,
Will and your friends at HHS Ignite