In 1992, Ted Gaebler and David Osborne authored the book “Reinventing Government” that “shocked the world” of government. Ted was a seasoned city manager (who has since returned to the profession) and David’s background was in higher education and together they chronicled real-life examples of government leaders at all levels exhibiting the entrepreneurial spirit helping government improve performance. Several government agencies and leaders were profiled and synthesized into ten principles behind the emerging new role for government – flexible, innovative and entrepreneurial.
When it was published, I was serving as the Assistant City Manager in the City of Mason, Ohio and our entire executive team devoured the book. We used the principles extensively, applying what we learned into fundamentally shifting how we did the business of public service. Its principles significantly influenced how I sought to help build more a credible government and a stronger community both in Mason and subsequent roles I held in city management. In my consulting practice, I remain vigilant in trying to help government reinvent itself at so many levels.
As a way to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of its publication, I recently sat down with Ted and asked for his observations on the influence of Reinventing Government. He expressed slight disappointment that more government leaders had not adopted, implemented and sustained the principles in the book since these were proven practices from government agencies. Ted and David authored a timeless recipe designed to improve government performance but the shelf-life of the book was too short. People moved onto the next solution, seeking a painless remedy, when truth be told none exist.
Opportunities for substantial innovation are in abundance, but according to Ted there is entirely too much focus in government on management and not enough on leadership, especially about the indispensable need for steering successful change; an assertion I wholeheartedly agree with. We agree that government suffers from “bureaucratic gravity” where past solutions are re-synthesized to fix today’s problems. Ask yourself how fluent are you in change management
Going forward as government transitions into a new role, Ted believes, leaders must abide by the adage which says to “remember the absence of mistakes does not constitute success” and must exhibit courage about what is possible. The disruptive and ever-shifting political winds place the public sector at a critical juncture: the need for entrepreneurial and innovative leaders has never been greater and the trend which shows these qualities as the most unlikely to be demonstrated. Visionary leaders realize that today playing it safe is no longer playing it smart!
I am seriously contemplating writing a book in the near future and ask for your help. Please send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with successful practices you’ve observed in yours, or a colleague’s, agency and areas you believe I should focus on in the next phase of reinventing government or as I like to call it “Moving Forward: Optimizing Government in the 21st Century.”