Barack Obama’s appointment of a 30-year lifer from McKinsey, the management consulting firm, to Chief Performance Officer of the United States is, well, awful. At a time when the US desperately needs serious innovation to restart and reset the economy, the President-Elect is turning to an efficiency expert for advice. Yes, of course, the bureaucracies of the country could use fine-tuning. Which bureaucracy, private or public, couldn’t use some shaping up? But government efficiency is not the most important issue facing us. Anyone with elderly parents know that they get their Social Security checks on time and Medicare, however much some doctors double-bill, works more smoothly than most of our private HMOs.
Corporations for nearly a decade now have expressed disappointment with the McKinseys and Bains and other traditional performance consultants because they all leave heavy books of recommendations (for very hefty prices) on their desks—and then leave. IDEO, ZIBA, Continuum, Smart, Jump, SYP and schools such as the Institute of Design, the Rotman School of Management, the University of Cincinnati, the Stanford D-School and others are being called in by smart companies to show they how to change, how to innovate.
Why? Because the greatest economic value today lies with innovation, not efficiency. And that’s true of an entire economy, an entire nation, as a single company.
So I worry about the economic package that will soon be passed to get the economy going again. We’re already giving billions to Detroit but nothing to the new electric car-makers, such as Tesla, or pioneers in batteries. Electric cars are a disuptive collective of technologies. We should promote them. There’s going to be a lot of money going into infrastructure, but how much into subways and trolleys (go to Portland where people jump on and off trolleys for free—and they are packed, freeing up the streets from cars), bike lanes or electrification (so electric cars can juice up). There are smart transmission lines to be built, battery transfer stations to be built, broad-band lines to be laid.
We need a huge overhaul of TSA and Homeland Security systems, so people will want to come to the US again to study and work. Fast-pass security is still in its infancy.
We need to finance new and better Teacher Education programs and graduate a new generation of better-educated educators. Right now Stanford, Harvard and Columbia Teachers College provide excellent grad programs but most teacher ed schools are mediocre at best. Classrooms have to be completely rebuilt to reflect how children learn today—not how courses were taught in the 19th century (yes, there is talk of doing this but will it be sweeping, big and impactful?). And every high school graduate has be to guaranteed a spot in college. Every one.
We should also be building a whole network of boarding schools overseas for poor children, giving them a modern education—and paying their parents money for each kid in school.
None of this has much to do with performance. I’m hoping Google’s Eric Schmidt, who is close to President-elect Obama is talking this stuff. But I don’t yet see much evidence that the Obama administration, which is full of middle-aged and elderly Clintonites who formed their intellectual POVs in the 90s, really gets it. Larry Summers is a brilliant economist but he doesn’t understand the role of innovation in growth. And McKinsey’s Nancy Killefer, who also served in the Clinton Administration, is “an expert in streamlining policies and wringing our inefficiences,” as Obama puts it, but she doesn’t have a background in creating new options to deal with a new, uncertain world.
The Obama administration has to do better. And soon.