Creating the incentives to accomplish long-term government goals

Yesterday, I spent the day in Philadelphia at Supernova 2010, and enjoyed the people that came. My greatest challenge came from the topics that occurred later in the day, which covered areas on social media (having to do with will SM save media), policy and small business. The topics, while relevant in some fashion, were somewhat the same as I have seen everywhere else. Lots of great rules for engagement, conversations on well-worn case studies, and a couple of gems of details I enjoyed to learn about (e.g. I have not heard about the extent of @twelpforce until this panel).

But what got me spurred the most had more to do with the last panel:

Crossing the Abyss
Allan Frank (City of Philadelphia), Chris Lehmann (Science Leadership Academy), Brad Garlinghouse (AOL)
Organizations that thrived in the prior era will not necessarily succeed in the Network Age. Yet the inertia of established practices, incentives, and culture is extremely powerful. If an organization needs to transform, how can it determine the proper path, and what does it take to achieve real, sustainable change?(emphasis mine)

While the conversation with Brad was enjoyable (hearing about AOL and Yahoo! and the Second Acts), I appreciated the stories, but wanted to hear (in this panel) some suggestions on how to achieve real, sustainable change (see above). When Chris and Allan joined the panel, there were great details on what was wrong and what was needed, but little in what works and what are the next great achievements to drive this change.

I personally got frustrated with the litany of problems that were enumerated and the demands that were to be made – as if there were infinite resources and it could be an instantaneous change that could occur in our schools, our governments and our corporations to bring about the successes we seek. But sorry guys, coming from a ABD PhD, gratification and change comes about slowly and often imperceptibly until the critical mass occurs and then all follow due to the standards of human nature. The question is – how to we determine that path to achieve that change?

Where is the next frontier?

When I was watching The Daily Show with John Stewart this week, Monday had an interesting author on the show. William Rosen, author of The Most Powerful Idea in the World, spoke on the concept that the past two hundred years had seen the greatest growth in technology and wealth than in all the ages prior because of the ability of man to both create power above and beyond what had been created before – but also in the ability to achieve greatness through invention and commerce. The start of the startup superstars began through this era, and extended through the use of electricity and manufacturing to create the connected world we live in.

200 years ago, we barely knew what was happening in a town less than five miles away – unless we all came together and swapped stories. 100 years ago, newspapers delivered stories that were days old across the continent where actions on one side of the country could conceivable impact the other side though the power of politicians and governance. 40 years ago, television could bring us visions of who and what were famous and powerful just by the gating of what was visible on the television set. The access to extremely limited resources have always been the incentive for others to strive for change and greatness.

“But what about altruism?” I hear people cry. Altruism happens a great deal, but long-term, sustained impact that affects societies over long periods comes through other means. Watch how opinions are formed faster and faster though the improvement of media distribution and the masters of the pen, production or now, aggregation. Watch how segmentation along lines of interest, gender, religion, alma maters and social networks becomes the greater distinguisher than nationality and ethnicity. What motivates us to bring about the next great change in society? Sustainable change that will progress us forward, not just line the pockets of the top few?

What is that new frontier that causes people to want to achieve change that helps society? And what are the motivations?

Fame, fortune, power and a mark on the future

Walk down any major street in New York City and you can see the markings on every building (whether etches, chiseled or spray painted) of people making (or have made) their mark on the world. In every town, there is a building with someone’s name on it, symbolizing the contribution that was given by the person or their family. Note how the press talk up and tear down individuals, businesses, organizations both to support a concept and to rail against it. The concept of fame and the impression it makes on others can be a heady power. Just take a look at our friends at Jersey Shore and how Snooki took her fame to suppose she was above the norm for social interactions.

Next, follow the recent discussions in the media on the success of software entrepreneurs, then web entrepreneurs, then mobile apps entrepreneurs, then social media/game entrepreneurs – and discover that as the press and the money appear, the people follow the path to create greater and greater innovation and advancement. And then, take note at areas that are not hot anymore – when was the last time you heard about an amazing e-commerce platform company? People follow the hype and the riches – because, with technology, telecommunications and social connectedness, we are finding out the “games” that we are playing in the local, state, national and global stage.

And then – look at people with fortune – the lives they lead, the safety and security they have and do not have (consider the fact that they could become targets for any and all litigations that happen in their lives). We all believe we will achieve fame and fortune, but are they the only motivators for success and change in this world?

And when you are famous or financially successful in the world, does this mean you succeeded in changing it for the better, or found a mechanism for generating wealth or fame that was not found before? And with that success, comes the speedy connection to media and to the outside world’s perspective/opinion.

Where are you going with this Sanford?

The real challenge is that, as with anything in society, there is often a challenge in rallying people together to make a change in a positive way, since most people are more afraid of risk and change than on the potential success that is possible. Someone once gave me a number of two to three percent of the population are “risk takers” seeking those alluring rewards of fame and fortune, whereas 30 to 40 percent of the population are pushing every so hard on keeping the status quo and/or going back to what was.

When we look at the problem areas of innovation in business, improving education to generate something that is engaging and designed for the 21st Century and enabling government to be innovative, nimble and responsive to both the needs and the emergencies of a changing world in terms of hours and days, not weeks and months – the goal is to look for the solutions and the motivations that are going to achieve this with mechanisms that are not limited to the fragility of fame and the potential of financial wealth and/or power.

With the advent of social games generating revenue and attention during the off-hours of our lives and encroaching on our working hours (tell me you have not been itching to play your Mafia Wars or Farmville on your iPhone today), can we take lessons from the techniques of these entertainments to create new incentives to bring about the change we seek?

This entry was posted in Personal Thoughts, Political Thoughts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.