Eight years ago, my friend-tor Janice Fraser led the President’s Leadership Workshop at the White House. She asked me to help facilitate. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done professionally, and I get to do it again later this month!
It was an amazing experience where I learned so much.
My experience helping with the workshop
The White House itself is pretty small. The Eisenhower building next door is where most staffers work, and that’s where the workshop took place.
The staffers were spilt into groups of four to run their ideas through the Lean Startup framework.
My group wanted to provide a new bus route for an area where there was no public transportation. Buying buses, hiring drivers, and developing the new route is a big investment. We set out to determine if it would be a good investment?
We worked through their riskiest assumption, “Do people in this area really need a bus route?” The session ends with this challenge: If you only had two weeks, what experiment could you run to test your assumption?
My group came up with the idea of renting vans and providing free transportation to the community for two weeks. The drivers would interview the passengers and find out how residents currently get to their destinations.
After two weeks, the group should have much better answers to these questions:
- Is the lack of public transportation really a problem?
- Is a new bus route was the best way to solve this problem?
It was a great idea for an experiment, and everyone seemed excited to test it out on Monday (more on that in a bit).
3 things I learned
1. Everyone wants to do their job well and make a real difference
It’s easy to be cynical. You watch the news and think it’s blue vs red, and everyone is out to get the other party. But all the people I met just wanted to implement programs that really help people.
Over ten years ago, Sodium Halogen worked with a congress-focused startup, and this has been my experience time and time again. Everyone working in the government might have different ideas of how to help their constituents, but most people feel passionately about making things better for all citizens. Everyone wants to be more efficient, get more done, and have an impact.
2. Government can learn from the startup community
Lean Startup’s principles have proven to be effective in all types of industries from higher education, to Fortune 100 companies. The US government has taken notice too. 18F is an internal group that partners with government services to help them build better technology.
The workshop was led by my friend-tor Janice Fraser (read her amazing book), and its purpose was to teach these Lean Startup methodologies to White House staffers (the ones who are implementing the policy). The best way to learn is by doing, so we walked the staffers through a framework for creating, vetting, and running experiments on ideas for govenment services.
3. Try it on Monday
I love learning new things, butI want to be a doer that implements what I learned (rinse and repeat). The White House teams created a motto of “Try it on Monday.” This means start now…this Monday.
It reminded me how often I am slow to move from the idea phase to actually trying it out with a small experiment.
Eight years ago, I was encouraged by all the smart and thoughtful people doing great work in the White House. I was amazed by their ideas and experiments. And I can’t wait to see what insights await me later this month.
Sign Up for Insights
Be notified when new insights are published