President Donald Trump’s memorandum establishing the White House Office of American Innovation sounds great. It appoints his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as its head and aspires to “bring together the best ideas from government, the private sector, and other thought leaders to ensure that America is ready to solve today’s most intractable problems.”
We hear lots of talk in the business community about the need to innovate to stay ahead of the competition. But what does “innovation” really mean? Merriam-Webster defines it as “a new idea, device, or method.” If Trump and Kushner intend to import the private sector’s ideas, devices, or methods into government, we should take a closer look at how innovation works in the business world.
The federal government is a large organization; in fact, it is the largest employer in the U.S. followed by Walmart. So if innovation is going to work in the federal government, it would need to follow the same model of innovation at large private sector organizations.
But the tough truth is that it’s really hard to innovate in large private sector organizations. There are really only two ways to do so effectively: acquire those that innovate or innovate internally.