Book review: "We the Possibility"
At Resigility, we see ourselves as true partners in driving government innovation. We’re often called upon to assist public sector clients to adapt and overcome organizational challenges, not least of which are those resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, we keep up with the latest literature around management, transformation and strategy to ensure our recommendations are informed by current research.
With that goal in mind, I read Mitchell Weiss’s recent book, “We the Possibility: Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems.” Weiss, a Harvard Business School professor, wrote this compelling book to change the mindset of public sector leaders and inspire a new way of governing. A strong advocate for bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to government, Weiss addresses the daunting issues facing society today, sharing stories and insights on how the public sector can think like a startup, take calculated risks, involve users and collaborate with the private sector to tackle problems. For example:
- Weiss suggests that government should engage constituents for answers and view problems as opportunities, rather than being limited by scarce resources. He contends that government employees must avoid advancing ideas based on their constraints, turning to original thinking and creativity to surmount challenges. “[Resource-driven ideas] are designed for the past that won’t return and a present that isn’t good enough,” he says.
- Another strategy Weiss proposes is that government should prudently use funding with build-measure-learn or lean startup models requiring minimal investment to produce “testable prototypes” or “minimally viable products,” which enable testing to gain customer insights. He highlights the real-world example of gov, which launched in 2009 with just enough information to obtain valid citizen feedback, and now provides public access to a wealth of data, tools and resources.
- When things don’t work, Weiss advises, public officials should be able to say, “We ran a test. We ran it without spending too much time and money. The test proved that either our idea or our execution was wrong. We’ll learn from our failure and move on.” Developing acceptance of the downside of risk will allow government to drive experimentation, out-of-the-box thinking and innovation.
- “We the Possibility” acknowledges the generational decline in trust and belief in government , providing examples of how agencies can reclaim their position and earn public trust by:
- Being more intuitive.
- Increasing awareness of real public problems.
- Stepping out of the status quo or comfort zone and experimenting/designing with the public instead of for the public.
- Embracing entrepreneurship.
For our Resigility team, build-measure-learn and minimum viable product methodologies are among the approaches we use to identify core client capabilities and empower greater resilience and agility – not just in day-to-day operations, but in establishing an overall strategy. We encourage our clients to embrace unconventional thinking and fresh perspectives that can lead to innovative solutions. As Weiss says: “We have problems. Giant ones. But there are also countless opportunities to create, to question and to invent.” Given increased public investment during the pandemic, perhaps the moment is right for the U.S. government to forge a new path forward, generating bold solutions to societal challenges. Resigility stands ready to support this direction, making sure “we get the government we invent,” as espoused by Weiss.
 (PEW Research, April 2019, “17% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right – “just about always” (3%) or “most of the time” (14%).”)