Magazine article Government Finance Review

Why Steve Jobs Might Have Failed at Government Innovation

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Why Steve Jobs Might Have Failed at Government Innovation

Article excerpt

In the public sector, innovation is typically linked to achieving greater efficiencies in the use of public revenues, thereby better investing tax payer money.

Entrepreneurship and business are marked by stories of genius: individuals envisioning a goal, taking action with courage, and overcoming great adversity to achieve success. Some of the most triumphant people in our nation's history failed miserably, sometimes more than once. For example, Thomas Edison was told he was too stupid to learn anything and should find a field that didn't require intelligence. Henry Ford went bankrupt with multiple companies. Walt Disney's editor said he lacked imagination and had no original ideas. The list goes on.

Steve Jobs is perhaps the best recent example of entrepreneurial skill and inventive success tempered and challenged by failure. The Apple "Lisa" computer was unsuccessful, but it set the stage for Macintosh. Jobs was then forced out of the company he built and started a new company, NeXT. While NeXT flopped overall, its platform became the basis for Mac OS X, and in 1996 Jobs joined Apple, effectively saving it from bankruptcy and driving it to become one of the most innovative companies in the world with the launch of the iPod, iPad, and iPhone.

But we should ask ourselves the question: Would Jobs or others who failed at their initial goals have been given the chance to succeed and be innovative if that initial failure had occurred in government?

Innovation is an old term that has new prominence. In the private sector, innovation often revolves around emerging digital technologies. In the public sector, innovation is typically linked to achieving greater efficiencies in the use of public revenues, thereby better investing tax payer money. Most large cities even have individuals and sometimes entire staffs devoted to innovation. However, one of the biggest differences in the private and public sectors when it comes to innovation is this: While failure followed by a surprising climb to success is the subject of legend in private enterprise, government leaders are typically not given such latitude.

One important reason is that while the loss of private money will negatively impact a small number of investors, every taxpayer considers themselves an investor when it comes to public funds, and will typically react negatively to any known waste or loss of their contributions. While people might forgive and even forget failure in the private sector, voters are not likely to easily and quickly forgive public officials who must bear responsibility for loss or failure--especially not when the public currently has a near-record-low trust in government and constituents lack faith that government leaders are acting in their best interests. …

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