Fixing the US Government – pt1
We’ve all grown up being taught that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world. It’s easy to believe it. Our size and status in the world community is unquestioned. Our standard of living is so high that our “poor” live lives that would be considered upper middle class in many European nations. Of course we’re the greatest nation in the world. So obviously we’re doing the right things, right? Our government must work better than any other, right?
It’s flawed logic. Think about the business world for a minute. There are hundreds of companies who were once Fortune 500 companies that have faded into obscurity over the years. They felt the same way. We’re the best, just keep doing what we’ve been doing and we’ll be fine. Wrong. In fact, there are only 62 companies who have been on the Fortune 500 list every year of its existence. 1,952 other companies have come and gone during that time span.
But those are companies. That’s not the same thing as countries, is it? Tell that to the Roman Empire, or the Byzantine Empire, or the British Empire. In reality it’s even harder for a country to innovate and refresh itself than it is for a company. The landscape in business changes quickly and most companies know that they must adapt to survive. Businesses are constantly focused on becoming more efficient and identifying the next big thing. Personally, I would like to see my government starting thinking along those lines.
Hold that thought. Let’s talk about inertia for a second. Sir Isaac Newton was the first to define inertia and it was the primary driver of his first law of motion. It says that an object that is not impacted by any external force will move at a constant rate. It will continue to do so until something acts upon it to make it change (either velocity or direction). In Newton’s time he was focused on showing how gravity was impacting objects that were in motion, i.e. a rock landing on the ground after being thrown.
I believe that people, both individuals and groups have inertia as well. Sometimes this is good, driving us toward success, and sometimes it is bad and makes it feel like we’re in a rut that we cannot escape. Businesses and government have inertia as well. Businesses are more aware of it. They know that their products will only be successful for a certain time and will need to be replaced.
Let’s look at Apple as an example. When Apple released the first iPod in conjunction with iTunes it was a huge success. It revolutionized the music work much like the Walkman in the early eighties. So did Apple sit still, pleased with itself for delivering a game changing electronic device? No! They knew that there were competitors who were right behind them. They knew that time was passing. They knew that external forces would keep the iPod from being successful forever. They understand that they had X amount of time that the iPod would be a viable product before it would fade into obscurity. The amount of time that a product is viable is known as a shelf life and the shelf life of technology is one of the shortest in the business world. So what did they do?
They innovated. They made their iPod’s better, gave them more storage capacity and made them smaller and cheaper. When others were just catching up they changed the game completely and turned them into the iPhone and eventually the iPad. Because of their willingness to embrace change and plan for the future they have been able to maintain the prime position in a market that moves at the speed of light.
Am I personally a fan of Apple? No, I’m a PC guy myself, but do I appreciate how they do business? You better believe it. In fact, I wish that our country’s government would take a page from their book and start working to get better. I believe that the world of government is extremely similar to the world of business. They are both trying to propagate their own success by producing a product worth paying for. In the case of the government that product is usually a service like teaching, roads, infrastructure, etc.
The difference between the two is that the world of government moves at a much slower pace. Trends that appear in this environment reach maturity in decades, not years. Let’s get back to inertia for a second. We were dealing with objects in motion. If a business like Apple is the size of a pebble then the US government is the size of a boulder. Think about how hard it is to change the path of a pebble in flight. Not that hard is it? Now, think about trying to change the path of a boulder in flight. That’s the challenge that we are facing. The inertia inherent in government is so strong that even if things go bad it will take years to accept the truth and begin to make the appropriate changes. Many times it’s too late.
Over the course of the next few weeks I’m going to explore this topic further. In all honesty, I know how I feel about the situation, but I think that I’m going to be just as surprised as you are to discover the direction that this will go. I’m trying to approach it without preconceived notions and biases. I think we’ve all seen that neither the Right nor the Left is going to make things better any time soon. I want to explore why that is and see if I have any better ideas than the ones that are already in place. I’m certain that we will explore the electoral process, the lobbyist situation and the direction setting agenda. Where else we go will be determined by what we find in those places.
In an unusual twist, since this is such an unusual topic for me, I’d like to throw open the creative process. If you have thoughts or topics that you would like to see discussed then let me know. Maybe we can learn something together.
Until next time,