I love this! Forget 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert – take 20 hours and get good enough!
Great for those things you always wanted to learn: guitar, painting, or…. the list is endless.
I love this! Forget 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert – take 20 hours and get good enough!
Great for those things you always wanted to learn: guitar, painting, or…. the list is endless.
The calls are starting – first time candidates and incumbents are starting to call in order to explore potential campaigns in 2014.
Awhile ago, I wrote a check list for first time candidates, and while I still stand by this simple checklist, I have something additional to add to the list.
You need a political consultant.
Why? Let’s explore, because its Science Friday.
Setting aside hindsight bias, let’s begin with that fact that after 30 years in political consulting and political campaigns, I don’t know many things for certain, but I know the following to be absolutely true:
Our brains are designed to take shortcuts and often unwillingly and sometimes even willingly deceive us.
Let’s be honest, if you…or ‘someone you know’…is exploring a run for office, you most likely have a healthy ego. It is this healthy ego that allows you…or your friend… to feel like you have something to offer the public that they should “buy.”
The moment you verbalize your intention to possibly consider a run for office, people & your own brain begin to lie to you – even more than normal.
Your friends lie because they like you and don’t want to have a candid conversation.
Your friends are not intentionally lying, but they will say thinks like “I think you would be great.”, “We need good people like you to run.”, “You would be leaps and bound better than the nit-wits we have now.”, and various other pleasant things.
People who do business with the office you seek lie because you may win.
They are looking out for the own self interest and they will be very nice to you, especially in the early stages of exploration.
Your friends and people lie to you because they don’t know better.
Your friends & others may give you an honest opinion that you may make a fantastic public official, but don’t know the first thing about political realities, political campaigns, or the campaign process.
This entire Science Friday will be dedicated to the study of irrationality, heuristics and fallacies.
Let’s just state two things as facts as a summary of the entire field of research & literature:
If one does not have a meta experience and take the time to think about thinking, you are helpless to fight the shortcuts your brain is conditioned to take.
Even if you have a meta-experience, if you do not build deliberate systems to force yourself to fight your brain, you are helpless.
This is exactly why intelligence analysts who are dealing with far more complex issues other than “should I run for office?” build these critical thinking processes into their workflow.
Bottom line: our hunches, our guts, our thoughts are often just dead wrong.
Let’s explore some common issues:
As humans, we are often completely ignorant of why we make the decisions we do (like run for office). We make the decision, then perform mental gymnastics to rationalize the decision. It happens lighting quick, unconsciously and then we rationalize our decision by filling in our memories and just making stuff up. We do this so often we are blissfully unaware that our brains are doing it. We simply must rationalize the decisions we make.
Fun fact: If you are asking about running for office, you want to run for office. Most likely, you are asking around seeking a rational explanation to justify your decision.
I don’t want to insult you, but all humans (even great political consultants) fall subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect.
This effect tells us that most of us are extremely poor at estimating our own competences and the difficulty of the complex tasks in front of us. True, the effect is more pronounced among unskilled labor, but this makes the trap even more dangerous for aspiring politicians.
As David McRaney tells us, “The less you know about a subject, the less you believe there is to know in total. Only once you have some experience do you start to recognize the breadth and depth you have yet to plunder.”
“In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” - Russell
Political campaigns are complex operations that unless you have participated in them before, you can’t possibly know what it is like to be a candidate.
Here is another issue, just because you have participated in a campaign as a volunteer/manager/staffer, you can’t possibly know what it is like to be a candidate.
Side note: This especially holds true when it comes to the area of raising money. Remember there is a major difference between raising money for your favorite charity/business and raising money for your own political campaign. I routinely take the amount a first time candidate tells me they can raise, cut it in half and cut it in half again. More than likely, this is the amount they will raise.
Remember those encouraging words your friends tell you? You are falling subject to subjective validation.
The subjective validation tells us that people are prone to believing vague statements and predictions are true, especially if they are positive and address you personally.
These are just three of the cognitive traps that we as humans fall into. Worse? We fall prey to them all the time without noticing, and these are just the TIP of the iceberg. (To see a more comprehensive list – look to Wikipedia or look at the additional reading listed at the bottom of this post.)
Lucky for you and your brain, there is a solution: hire a great political consultant.
Any great political consultant must study brain function. It is our job to understand the decision making process so that we can understand how voters make decisions, how political decisions are made, and how we can affect these processes.
Our job is not only to help you navigate to victory, but also to have the experience and courage to be the check against your brain.
At Ozean, we receive feedback after every campaign cycle that the number one thing our clients appreciate most is our ability to cut through the “fog of a campaign” and be candid – even when it hurts.
Ozean does this by building into our processes the systems to combat not only your cognitive biases but our own cognitive biases. This takes effort, skill, and it takes an understanding of how our brains naturally deceive us.
We are continuously floored by the number of political consultants that are operating on their guts, their rules of thumb, and their own flawed thinking.
In closing, your friends lie to you & your brains lie to you. You need a political consultant to help you navigate these waters, and you better make damn sure your consultant won’t tell you only what you want to hear.
If you would like to discuss your potential and use our critical thinking processes, please do not hesitate to contact Ozean.
Ariely, Dan (2009-06-06). Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.
Heuer, Richards (2012-01-17). Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency.
Silver, Nate (2012-09-27). The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t.
Sunstein, Cass R.; Richard H. Thaler (2008-04-08). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (p. 257). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
Wikepedia, List of Cognitive Biases
Welcome to Science Friday. A day when we look at some research and discuss the findings and/or implications.
by Nicholas Chad Long of St. Edward’s University.
Scandals were categorized on the nature of scandal (abuse of office, financial, sex) to see if there were differences.
The results reveal that those senators seeking reelection while confronting a scandal suffered a six percent decrease from their expected vote. They also attracted higher quality challengers who spent more money against them
Scandals involving immoral behavior hurt incumbents the most, while financial improprieties hurt them the least.
Another KEY quote from the paper is as follows:
For a scandal to have any impact on an election, potential voters have to know about it and care about it. The former is the job of the press. Voters rely on journalists to provide vital information about candidates, so that informed decisions can be made at the ballot box. Though the sources for that information are changing, the valuable role that the press plays in providing it is not (Graber 2009; Iyengar and McGrady 2006).
The study is also worth reading for the review of the literature on the subject. It covers party switching, voter turnout, campaign finance violations, corruption charges, and partisan differences.
“The coefficients are basically the same. Incumbents committing financial improprieties suffered the smallest decline (4.3%), while those displaying behavior seen as immoral suffered the largest decline (6.5%). This leads one to conclude that voters do not necessarily care about the nature of the transgression, but only that a transgression has occurred.”
“While there was essentially no difference in the number of Democrats or Republicans involved in scandals, the results reveal that voters did punish Republicans slightly more than Democrats. The results also show that incumbents, regardless of party, suffered most from objectionable behavior related to matters of morality, such as sexual indiscretions. The vast majority of incumbents were inclined to seek reelection, even in a hostile environment, rather than abandon their Senate careers. The evidence proves that, in fact, two-thirds were victorious in November. So while scandals blunt the incumbency advantage, they do not eradicate it.”
Gotta love science.
My hypothesis is that candidates not having the advantage of incumbency suffer much greater.
I fully realize special elections are wacky, and all of us should use extreme caution when generating conclusions from their results.
I also fully realize that SC1 is heavily conservative in its make up (+18% for Romney), and the district was likely to select the Republican emerging from the primary.
However, the election of Mark Sanford to South Carolina’s First Congressional district has me all worked up into a lather.
I can only draw this conclusion: The GOP must do better.
Lets us review for a moment some salient facts about Mark Sanford, the GOP nominee and now Congressman from South Carolina:
I don’t consider myself a stick in the mud fuddy duddy at all – BUT COME ON GOP VOTERS, we must do better.
First there is this:
Amy Kremer, the group’s chairwoman, said she backs him because he doesn’t just “claim to be a fiscal conservative but has actually acted as a fiscal conservative. And has a record as a governor and congressman of being fiscally responsible.”
As for Sanford’s checkered past, Kremer said, “That’s between Gov. Sanford, God and his family. I’m gonna leave that to the man upstairs.”
“All I’m concerned about is sending a congressman to Washington that’s going to do something about this out of control spending.” cnn.com
So values no longer matter at all? Where is the line? If a guy has multiple felony convictions, but promises to cut spending? Are we good? Let’s take this to the extreme – a child molester vows to cut spending – I ask you, “Are we good?”
Now imagine how stunned I was when I read this last night. A GOP voter is quoted saying the following:
“I don’t like what (Sanford) did but that doesn’t have anything to do with how he governs,” said Julie Bishop, who lives in a Charleston retirement community where Sanford recently campaigned. “If he murdered somebody, that would be different.” National Journal.com
THIS is what is has come down to? Murder? Good ol’ fashion murder is where you draw the line? I was half jesting about the child molester, but the MURDER line may make it a plausible scenario.
First, 16 way primaries are nuts, as a party, we should stop that.
I will admit, I don’t know where the line is exactly and if I had to sit down and write a definition it would be similar to the Supreme Court’s “you know it when you see it.”
But I do know that the Voters of South Carolina’s First Congressional District have placed the GOP in a bind.
Thanks a lot South Carolina.
Mark Sanford, YOUR GUY, is today’s laughing stock of the country. By sending this guy to Congress, you are driving the narrative that values, morals and trust do not matter at all in a politics. Maybe I was wrong and under the illusion that values, morals, and trust did at some point.
Sanford has made a nation of cynics more cynical at a time when I thought we were at the basement.
This morning I imagine a Congress with the lowest approval rating in the history of the United States waking up and groaning “Well crap, there goes the neighborhood.”
So, I was asked last night, would you have rather the GOP lost the seat? Is there no room for forgiveness?
Is there no room for forgiveness?
Here was my answer: There is always forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean you should be granted the trust of a vote.
I know of people who have deep skeletons in their personal lives who have cleaned their act up. I praise them, I congratulate them, but that doesn’t mean they should be an elected official.
Voting is very personal. We live in a representative government, which means when I vote, I am explicitly transferring trust to an elected official I vote for.
Again, I don’t know precisely where the line is or how to define it – but a line does exist. It must, otherwise, we are an amoral, valueless society.
This election that grants Sanford a microphone and seat at the table, strikes a blow to the very trust the GOP has a party and brand.
Now on to Would I have rather lost?
I would have rather the voters of South Carolina & the GOP performed better.
I just know as a nation we must do better, because this, this right here, is bullshit!
PS I guess I take solace in the fact that the NRCC walked away from this guy. I guess they can see a line.
With apologies to Luke Sullivan & Thoreau, Ozean Media is stealing this as our theme for this year.
Always remembering Occam’s razor: when you have two correct answers that both solve problem, the more correct one is the simplest one!
We must keep in mind that political campaigns like advertising are emotional. Every campaign can be reduced with great difficulty to one main emotion, capture it correctly and your political career can take off.
For the past 4 days, I have been on a self-imposed digital sabbatical.
I decided to go on this sabbatical after a difficult month and especially trying week.
I am still not completely sure of nor can I fully explain why I felt the need to totally disconnect.
However, I knew deep down that I was tired and needed to be still so that I could think. I know I needed the pinging to stop.
For my sabbatical, I checked into a beach condo on Thursday with plans for my wife and kids to join me after Friday work.
Here were my rules:
I was NOT prepared for the difficulty that was involved with this sabbatical idea.
I checked into the Condo at about 10 am on Thursday and turned off my constant companion cell smartphone. What have I done? I thought about it, my cell phone hasn’t been turned off on purpose in years.
It took 5 minutes to move luggage into condo and look around. It took another 3 minutes to feel the stress of my sabbatical decision. No Email? No Web? Am I nuts? What in the hell am I going to do now?
It started to rain. I opened the door, listened to the surf, smelled the rain. THAT was different.
I went to the grocery store to purchase supplies. Wait a minute – no smart phone with a grocery list? I had to go up and down the isles looking for things, and a funny thing happened: I began to notice what fruit was fresh and smelled good versus what was on my list. I noticed all the ingredients that I have never used in my cooking. I read a label or 10. Interesting.
I spent about 30 minutes more than I normally would in a grocery store just exploring. I stopped and talked to the Veggie guy – what came in today? I asked him if the automatic dispensing of artificial mist actually helped the veggies stay fresh or was it just for aesthetic reasons. He didn’t know. Interesting. I noticed the numerous Beach Bums with their tons of different accents and their too-leathery skin. It was a strange collection of humans, some preparing to return North others complaining of the lack of sun. All in all, an enjoyable trip to the grocery store that was…. fascinating.
Returned to the condo and unpacked.
I started to do some work that I brought with me, but then I caught the pile of books I brought with me out of the corner of my eye.
In this pile, there was a book that I have been meaning to read for years, but just never found the motivation or the time. I knew it was a classic, but I also knew it would be a slow slug. I picked up my copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig and dived in.
The book did not disappoint. It was was a slow, deep, complex, slug-it-out kind of a read. I haven’t experienced a book like it in years. It took all my concentration, it took rereading passages, it took time to close the book and consider what the author wrote. Frankly, I am still processing some of what I read – this book is lingering in my head more than any book I have read in 20 years. The book was a delightful challenge, and I never would or could have read it with constant background pinging.
I ran. I ran in the rain and thought about what I was reading – thinking about Quality, my relationship with my children, the difference between scientific reasoning and art, and various other, random, stream of consciousnesses thoughts. In fact, I added 37 minutes to my normal running time without even noticing. Didn’t care, but I noticed that I felt great.
Then it started. The great unnamed tropical storm that hit Thursday evening, Friday morning. The 10 inches of rain caused the Great Battle of 2013 versus the assorted evil roof leaks. A small drip quickly escalated into an indoor rain. The intense battle raged for hours. Emptying buckets, moving furniture, and moping were all instruments of my battle. Trying to figure out where the leak was coming from and how to possibly stop the leak became my mission. The battle raged until about 3 am. Damndest thing: I found myself enjoying the ridiculousness of this experience: the wind was howling, it smelled different, the waves raged and I just went with it. In the end, I lost this battle.
My wife and family decided not to join me in the flooded condo, and I don’t blame them. I did notice that I was stuck and couldn’t get out. The road leading into the condo had funneled all the water into the exit road. I found myself wondering how deep it was, so I waded into it as a funny thought came to me, “The water is about 18 inches deep and I am a 40 year old man playing in the rain.”
I read some more. Two additional books: one the regulation of the Internet and another on the importance of focus in business.
As soon as the roads cleared Saturday morning, I returned home, and during the hour and half trip – silence. No pings, no anxiety about the phone ringing, no news. It was nice.
The digital sabbatical continued for another 48 hours, but the effects remained the same.
After my initial shock and bewilderment, my time was filled with different things that either I had forgotten how much I enjoyed or filled with new things that I had been meaning to try or get to.
In the end, I feel refreshed and a little bit more in control of the pings, the alerts, and the URGENT messages.
I would highly suggest that you try a digital sabbatical, and let me know how it goes.
It is science Friday (Wednesday edition), and I am off on an electronic sabbatical after a very difficult week. Therefore, I am admitting right now that I am lazy and this may be the laziest post ever written for Science Friday, but that is still no excuse NOT to bring you a study in the field of politics.
I came across this post on twitter, and I thought it was PERFECT for Science Friday.
The working paper is entitled More Tweets, More Votes: Social Media as a Quantitative Indicator of Political Behavior.
Here is the abstract from the authors:
Is social media a valid indicator of political behavior? We answer this question using a random sample of 537,231,508 tweets from August 1 to November 1, 2010 and data from 406 competitive U.S. congressional elections provided by the Federal Election Commission. Our results show that the percentage of Republican-candidate name mentions correlates with the Republican vote margin in the subsequent election. This finding persists even when controlling for incumbency, district partisanship, media coverage of the race, time, and demographic variables such as the district’s racial and gender composition. With over 500 million active users in 2012, Twitter now represents a new frontier for the study of human behavior. This research provides a framework for incorporating this emerging medium into the computational social science toolkit.
DiGrazia, Joseph, McKelvey, Karissa, Bollen, Johan and Rojas, Fabio, More Tweets, More Votes: Social Media as a Quantitative Indicator of Political Behavior (February 21, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2235423 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2235423
[Just because I am lazy, does not mean I won't cite the paper correctly.]
The most interesting thing from the working paper to me is the following:
First, the data do not include any information about the meaning or context of a name mention (e.g., “I love Nancy Pelosi” vs. “Nancy Pelosi should be impeached”). The relative share of attention compared to the opponent is all that is needed.
Meaning, if you are running for office and people aren’t talking about your positioning in relation to the other candidate(s), you have a problem.
It has been an interesting period since Ozean Media released our landmark Twitter study on the twitter usage by Florida’s elected officials.
I say interesting because of the calls we received since the release of the study.
These calls generally fall into two categories:
2) Fellow Political Consultants calling under the guise of “Hey man, interesting research….I disagree with….” but then guiding the discussion to ask about improving their clients’ social media outreach.
Frankly, we were expecting calls from the press NOT calls from politicians or other political consultants.
I guess the number one thing we discuss during these calls is that a robust social media outreach is not easy, free, or able to be put in the hands of the intern. Digital Media needs a spot at the table with its own goals, measurements, budget, and strategy.
On these calls, we talk about the different kinds of digital outreach: video, social, websites, micro-sites photos, fundraising, email outreach, newsletters and how each one of these should match the politicians branding archetype. We talk about conceptually how a social media program could be worked into a communications calendar. We talk about data list building activities. How these digital communications differ from communication channels they are more comfortable with. For example, is a messaged photo on facebook the equivalent to digital direct mail?
At some point, in my excitement, I realize I have lost many of them. They know in their gut they should be doing more digital, but I think they honestly had NO idea that a robust digital program would be so much work or this labor intensive. I mean one should just be able to snap their fingers and create a web video that “will go viral”, RIGHT?
So in this discussion just about the time when all is lost, Ozean receives “Boy, Ozean really understands this stuff, thanks for the information. Can I call you in the future?”
It has happened so much in the past months that I am considering re-positioning Ozean Media to:
Ozean Media: The digital agency other political consultants and politicians call when they don’t understand digital.
What do you think? Yeah you are right, needs to be shortened up a little.
I know I am stepping in it with this post, but we need to talk about these things.
I have had an uneasiness with the tea party’s images and language from the beginning. I was recently asked “what is your deal?”, and since that moment, I have been working on articulating my issue with the images & language. I had been unsuccessful and allowed my mind a break by reading a new book.
I am not sure how I came across this book on my kindle, but it has captured my attention. It is written by a Harvard constitutionalist, Lawrence Lessig, and he writes about the Internet, cyberspace and the ‘regulability’ of those spaces.
But this post is not about shilling for Lessig’s book; however, an example he uses in the book allowed me finally to put to words to the uneasiness I have felt with the Tea Party’s imagery and language.
Here is Lessig’s example that triggered the ability to finally put words to my feelings.
It is a little long, but I promise worth the 10 minutes.
A “worm” is a bit of computer code that is spit out on the Net and works its way into the systems of vulnerable computers. It is not a “virus” because it doesn’t attach itself to other programs and interfere with their operation. It is just a bit of extra code that does what the code writer says. The code could be harmless and simply sit on someone’s machine. Or it could be harmful and corrupt files or do other damage that its author commands.
Imagine a worm designed to do good (at least in the minds of some). Imagine that the code writer is the FBI and that the FBI is looking for a particular document belonging to the National Security Agency (NSA). Suppose that this document is classified and illegal to possess without the proper clearance. Imagine that the worm propagates itself on the Net, finding its way onto hard disks wherever it can. Once on a computer’s hard disk, it scans the entire disk. If it finds the NSA document, it sends a message back to the FBI saying as much. If it doesn’t, it erases itself.
Finally, assume that it can do all this without “interfering” with the operation of the machine. No one would know it was there; it would report back nothing except that the NSA document was on the hard disk. Is this an unconstitutional worm?
This is a hard question that at first seems to have an easy answer. The worm is engaging in a government-initiated search of citizens’ disks. There is no reasonable suspicion (as the law ordinarily requires) that the disk holds the document for which the government is searching. It is a generalized, suspicionless search of private spaces by the government.
From the standpoint of the Constitution—the Fourth Amendment in particular—you don’t get any worse than that. The Fourth Amendment was written against the background of just this sort of abuse. Kings George II and George III would give officers a “general warrant” authorizing them to search through private homes looking for evidence of a crime. No suspicion was needed before the officer ransacked your house, but because he had a warrant, you were not able to sue the officer for trespass. The aim of the Fourth Amendment was to require at least suspicion, so that the burden of the search fell on a reasonably chosen class.
But is the worm really the same as the King’s general search? One important difference is this: Unlike the victims of the general searches that the Framers of our Constitution were concerned about, the computer user never knows that his or her disk is being searched by the worm.
With the general search, the police were breaking into a house and rummaging through private stuff. With the worm, it is a bit of computer code that does the breaking, and (I’ve assumed) it can “see” only one thing. And perhaps more importantly, unlike the general search, the worm learns little and leaves no damage after it’s finished: The code can’t read private letters; it doesn’t break down doors; it doesn’t interfere with ordinary life. And the innocent have nothing to fear. The worm is silent in a way that King George’s troops were not. It searches perfectly and invisibly, discovering only the guilty. It does not burden the innocent; it does not trouble the ordinary citizen; it captures only what is outside the protection of the law. This difference complicates the constitutional question.
The worm’s behavior is like a generalized search in that it is a search without suspicion. But it is unlike the historical generalized search in that it creates no disruption of ordinary life and “discovers” only contraband. In this way, the worm is like a dog sniff—which at least at airports is constitutionally permissible without probable cause18—but better. Unlike the dog sniff, the worm doesn’t even let the computer user know when there is a search (and hence the user suffers no particularized anxiety).
Is the worm, then, constitutional? That depends on your conception of what the Fourth Amendment protects.
In one view, the amendment protects against suspicionless governmental invasions, whether those invasions are burdensome or not. In a second view, the amendment protects against invasions that are burdensome, allowing only those for which there is adequate suspicion that guilt will be uncovered.
The paradigm case that motivated the framers does not distinguish between these two very different types of protections, because the technology of the time wouldn’t distinguish either. You couldn’t— technically—have a perfectly burdenless generalized search in 1791. So they didn’t—technically—express a view about whether such a search should be constitutionally proscribed. It is instead we who must choose what the amendment is to mean. Let’s take the example one step further. Imagine that the worm does not search every machine it encounters, but instead can be put on a machine only with judicial authorization—say, a warrant. Now the suspicionless-search part of the problem has been removed. But now imagine a second part to this rule: The government requires that networks be constructed so that a worm, with judicial authorization, could be placed on any machine. Machines in this regime, in other words, must be made worm-ready, even though worms will be deployed only with judicial warrant. Is there any constitutional problem with this?
In both cases, we are describing a regime that allows the government to collect data about us in a highly efficient manner—inexpensively, that is, for both the government and the innocent. This efficiency is made possible by technology, which permits searches that before would have been far too burdensome and invasive. In both cases, then, the question comes to this: When the ability to search without burden increases, does the government’s power to search increase as well?
Lessig, Lawrence (2011-02-14). Code version 2.0 (Kindle Locations 503-544). . Kindle Edition.
My problem with the tea party is through their images, language, and symbols, the Tea Party seems to advocate and communicate a desire to “return” or “go back” to a time that existed 200 years ago. A simple time with simplistic answers. A time that does not exist.
The Tea Party’s images, symbols and language advocate a return to a time and context of a document that could not ever have conceived of the situation of the sniffing worm. Our present day time offers situations and complexity that 200 years ago were unimaginable.
The second part of this that most American do not want to “return” to a life of colonial times. People like their smartphones, tablets, and don’t want to return to cooking food over an open pit. We have seen the images of developing nations, and frankly I prefer blogging in my air-conditioned office.
True some people want to simplify the issues that face us as a nation and quickly embrace overly simplistic answers, but I am not sure this is helping us as a nation.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a strong case to be made for limited government, reduced federal power, and reduction of the debt.
This is why the imagery and language of the Tea Party is so wrong. True it will appeal to folks looking for simple answers to very complex problems. However, in the long run, it is not good for the Tea Party movement.
Instead of advocating a return or going back 200 years, the Tea Party (or the next incarnation of it) will need to articulate what the future of limited government would look like and the benefits offered by it in order to spread their message further
Today, The Gainesville Sun ran a guest column written by Alex Patton. It is posted on the blog also.
Our local governments are fond of telling the public how much they have done for the ‘Innovation Economy’ in order to ‘allow’ it to thrive.
If ‘Innovation’ is going to be more than a PR buzzword filled marketing campaign, local government officials should embrace innovation by taking a break from congratulating themselves and take the time to learn from the innovation economy’s entrepreneurs.
There exists an entire movement among entrepreneurs known as the “lean start-up” philosophy. This innovation process practiced by many start-ups seeks to build the minimum viable project, launch the product, create tests, collect data, learn from the data, and then engage in rapid iteration of the product/project. If local officials could apply this approach to local government, we could discover what the innovators already know – this process eliminates waste by relying on the customer to drive value and the product development.
Let’s apply “lean start-up” at the community level with an example: transportation planning. Local visions in transportation are massive, multi-year, multi-million dollar bets. In our community, we see activists pushing for multi-modal transportation, Bus Rapid Transit, and a 2nd Ave Street Car. A small dedicated group is selling an expensive ‘vision’ with little data and little research into actual consumer behavior.
The approach our local officials are currently taking is precisely the opposite of the lessons we learn from innovation. A truly innovative, “lean start-up” approach would test any proposed vision first by devising a series of small scale tests.
For example, we could have the county organize a transportation summit inside the city limits of Gainesville at a location providing al
l transportation options available (walking, bus, car, & bicycle lanes). We could invite the most ardent supporters of multi-modal transportation, the car-only crowd, and everyone in-between. We could then observe how people actually choose to transport themselves to the summit. Such an exercise would isolate politics, yet provide valuable insight into the true transportation preferences of our citizens.
Interestingly, at the recent county summit, I did just that. After spending 15 minutes of personal observation, I discovered over-flow automobile parking, 1 citizen arriving by bicycle, and zero arrivals by RTS. For no expenditure of funds, our community can observe people’s actual behavior and collect data. After analyzing the data, this experiment logically encourages a hypothesis that our local officials should re-evaluate expansive plans for multi-modal transportation and consider providing better service for the transportation mode our citizens have shown they prefer: automobiles. We should then iterate and test again.
Another possible example is the proposed 2nd Avenue Street car. Some are advocating for placing a huge bet on infrastructure in building a street car with little actual data. Officials have shown a willingness to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars developing theoretical data from consultants, but no actual data on whether citizens in that specific corridor in this specific city will use a trolley to go 2 miles.
Here is a proposed innovative experiment: Some may remember the University City Hotel’s trolley on wheels – a simple bus that boarded passengers like a streetcar, looked like a streetcar, but ran on wheels instead of tracks. As a minimal viable product, rent a street-car on wheels, and operate it on 2nd Ave. while conducting experiments. Experiments could be conducted testing for variables such as price, hours of operation, drop-off & pick-up points, ticket methods noting the effects on demographics and ridership count. Experimenting could measure whether citizens find value in this proposal before investing millions of dollars.
As another example, let’s test the common wisdom held by some that when provided with the choice, citizens will use alternative modes of transportation. My proposed experiment would remove all barriers to entry for riding RTS. For one week, all citizens ride the entire RTS system for free. During the experiment measure the increase, if any, in ridership, noting time of day, demographics, etc. We can then generate a hypothesis on whether price elasticity has an effect on behavior, or is it another factor(s)?
Finally, let’s take the proposed Bus Rapid Transit. Some want this community to place a multi-year, multi-million dollar bet that their vision is correct. Before we take an expensive leap of faith, we should develop a series of small scale experiments, collecting and sharing data, iterating and testing some more. In a city full of world class scientists; our community surely could develop some simple experiments for little-to-no money that will observe actual behavior and measure the actual perceived value delivered by BRT.
Unfortunately, my hypothesis after observing local government for years is that we will be slow or refuse to learn from the innovation economy for a simple reason: there is a risk the experiments and data could demonstrate the vision is wrong or may need some serious iteration.
For more information on the lean start up philosophy:
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Ries