Should the Goverment be Run Like a Business?

Posted 04/19/2011 by Anonymous

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I had the opportunity to attend a seminar last week in New York hosted by marketing and design guru Seth Godin. Seth is the man who made every CEO and CMO''s have a Purple Cow, by reminding them that, in an everchanging world, they needed to find a way to stand out from the pack. Seth has shown himself to be remarkable by being able to read the signs along the road, often before many others. Whether it was the slippery slope of internet privacy (Permission Marketing), or the bump ahead of social media (Tribes), Seth has led the way when it comes to decoding the post "mass market" advertising landscape.

In his newest book Poke the Box, Seth tackles the chronic procrastination that plagues us all. He advocates for failure and angles for risk as the true inspiration for innovation and success. What was most curious to me, over the course of eight hours and many examples of reinvention, was that Seth did not once talk about things that had failed. He didn't linger on the missing data points that tie up decisions or the remaining inefficiencies that could be squeezed out of existing business models. All the potential, all the upside, all the customer loyalty and yes, all the profits would go to those willing to say yes. That those businesses willing to trust, willing to be transparent, willing to do the right thing for their customers, would be rewarded with customers willing to say yes when asked: would you recommend this product or service to a friend? Now, the notion that "good news" travels just as fast as bad, shouldn't be new to us. But in the corporate world where success is defined by quarterly reports and six sigma warriors armed with excel spreadsheets drive process improvements and efficiencies to the bottom line, the notion of human beings treating others like they would expect to be treated sounds wasteful and poorly defined, impossibly difficult to measure, and would undoubtable take too long to realize a return on investment. So - why start?

At one point during his talk Seth asked the audience to: Imagine if back in the 1980"s, that instead of demanding an increase in wages, union workers at Ford went on strike to demand that their bosses improve their products and their customer service? Would those jobs still exist today? In other words, short term thinking means short term gains, whether you're the employee or the employer.

Listening to Seth talk about the changes that businesses must make in order to speed the pace of innovation and remain competitive made me think about the nation as a whole. If digitizing and automation in the 21st century are synonymous with manufacturing in the 20th, and can do nothing more than drive the cost of labor down, what options do we have? If 70% of the spending needed to continue economic growth in this country is generated by middle class spending, aren't we working at cross purposes? After all, with China and India's standard of living on the rise, where will cheaper goods come from next - Africa and South America? - most likely. And after that?

Some argue that government should be run more like a business - What does that really mean? Does it mean, we continue to race to the bottom, spurning quality and innovation for short term profits. Or do we race to the top, creating an exclusive market where quality is a value only the wealthy can afford. Or does America, like business, have a third choice? Could we choose a middle path that focuses on value creation and sustainability, that aims to meet demand, that chooses authenticity over mediocrity, and recognizes craft and quality over price and efficiency?

The enormous wealth generated over the first ten years of this new century was obliterated over a few short months in 2007 and early 2008. Over the past two years the Wall Street comeback has exceeded expectations, the nations banks have recovered and job growth, though slow, is finally beginning to gain some momentum. If some of the most progressive thinkers in business see the need for democratization in business as a result of new technologies and social networks - if Seth is still ahead of the curve and correct in his predictions, then those insisting government take a business like approach may be advocating for a mode of thinking that is already outdated, and who's short term gains, political and otherwise, will only result in a continued cycle of boom and bust.

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