Reinvest 10 -> Innovation
It’s a recurring theme in government. The legislature bets big on a speculative, unproven program costing billions of dollars. It fails miserably. We all pay for it. No one learns from the mistake, so we repeat it. Again, and again.
If you’re searching for examples, just look to Maryland’s education system, where we spend $9 billion per year on education at the state level alone, yet state math and English (ELA) scores are going from bad to worse [ Read Reinvest 10 —> Education]. In 2021, for example, only 15% of Maryland 3rd graders were proficient in math, while only 24% were proficient in English Language Arts [Source: Fox Baltimore, State of Maryland Department of Education ] .
But this approach is hardly enough. Turns out, our “bet big” approach to spending — where we plunk down billions on unproven ideas — is our downfall. And, it’s not what innovation experts would recommend. Alex Osterwalder, co-creator of the Business Model Canvas and a well-respected innovation expert, says that only 1 of 250 new ideas are going to hit a home run [Osterwaalder, Global Scrum Gathering Vienna, 2019].
So, what would Osterwalder say we should be doing instead? Invest small amounts of money in many different ideas. Many will fail. For the ones that prove promising, invest more to bring them to market. [Osterwaalder, Global Scrum Gathering Vienna, 2019]
Osterwalder’s concept is known as an incubator and his go-to-market approach generally known as an innovation pipeline. We have many successful incubators here in Montgomery County, many of them focused on biotech and information technology, and they are very good at bringing promising ideas to market, while eliminating the dogs by halting further investment.
So, why aren’t we using incubators to improve government?
Well, we should.
To end the cycle of big, expensive failures, we need to Reinvest 4% of Maryland’s state budget to:
- Implement a Maryland Government Investment Incubator for new ideas, replete with small amounts of early-stage funding, well-defined success measures and an Office of Government Innovation to manage promising new ideas. Though we have an Office of Innovation that focuses on helping businesses to innovate here in Maryland, we don’t have an effective one that focuses inward, on government.
- Leverage agile practices, like Scrum and Lean Startup, to test new ideas and learn what works best. Pivot away from bad ideas and implement the proven solutions to tackle our biggest problems.
- Kill bad ideas early – during incubation – and recommend further investment to scale successful ideas so they can be applied broadly throughout government.
- Give preference micro-laws — small legislative changes that make incremental improvements and trim existing legislation, while funding promising ideas for the incubator through the innovation budget.
- Stop funding big, unproven ideas. Unless there’s truly a crisis (think COVID, our recent spike in crime, or high inflation), requests for funding should be channeled through the incubator and the innovation pipeline.
- Ultimately, Maryland needs to implement an innovation strategy in government known as Zone Management, much like Harvard Professor Geoffrey Moore recommends in “Zone to Win” [Moore: Zone to Win, Diversion Books, 2015]. Start with incubation, move a few big success each year into transformation, scale and expand successes in the performance zone, and focus on eliminating waste in the productivity zone. (Admittedly, this last step is very ambitious, and something better undertaken by a governor instead of a legislator).
Once firmly in place, following an innovation strategy like "Reinvest 10 —> Innovation” is likely to consistent wins year-over-year, though it’s NOT likely to generate a great deal of big press.
More importantly, through a government innovation strategy like the one proposed in Reinvest 10, the Maryland legislature will spend our tax money more wisely, instead of coming back to us, the taxpayers, demanding even more.