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Innovator Interview: John Jackson, President

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  • 1. John Jackson President Police Futurists International the innovator’s interview The Innovator’s Interview highlights unique innovations from a wide range of industries, and is an opportunity for futurethink and some of today’s leading innovations to share insights and ideas. April 2010 Turn innovation into action | Future Think LLC © 2005–10 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY www.getfuturethink.com
  • 2. the innovator’s interview 2 John Jackson the background This Innovator Interview series highlights leading innovators at Fortune 500 companies. In contrast to past interviews, focusing on a single innovation, this series examines the state of innovation at global organizations. We spoke with both innovation leaders and practitioners, within varying business units and organizational structures, across a broad range of industries both for–profit and not–for–profit. The interviews offer a unique insider’s view into the world of innovation—what makes it work, what holds organizations back, and what critical advice new innovators need to know to be more successful with innovation overall. the interview futurethink spoke recently with John Jackson, a member of the Houston Police Department and President of the Police Futures International. Police Futures International’s mission is to help bring foresight practices to everyday police work and create a more proactive approach to law enforcement overall. Read on to learn Mr. Jackson’s thoughts on how public and private sector innovation are different, the need to celebrate project successes and failures, and the importance of the half-baked idea. Your experience in the public sector – working in the Houston Police Department and now as the head of Police Futures International – makes you unique among those we’ve interviewed. How does the public sector innovate differently from the private sector? In some ways, the public sector experience is very similar to that of companies in industries that are very highly regulated, like financial services or pharmaceuticals, for example. Regulated organizations have a much harder time embracing a lot of typical innovation concepts just because they aren’t allowed. Standardization and regulation certainly serve some purposes. However, one of the negative side effects is that they also create inertia and make it difficult to change direction or think outside of certain boxes. In government, innovation is often viewed with anxiety because it’s seen as being risky. Law enforcement in general is a very risk-averse institution because it’s a serious job and police decisions are often life and death decisions. That makes people hesitant to embrace anything that’s too innovative. When we do innovate, our mission tends to be broader, so our focus tends to be quite different. In the private sector, your primary focus is on profit and efficiency. In the public sector, the focus is more on issues of equity and representation. We are very often called upon to trade off efficiency for these other values that are part of our political culture. Anticipate. Activate. Innovate. | Future Think LLC © 2005–10 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY www.getfuturethink.com
  • 3. the innovator’s interview 3 John Jackson What are some of the big challenges that you’ve seen when it comes to making innovation happen? Changing the leadership mindset is the biggest challenge. In the public “In the public sector, one sector, we can become victims of our past successes. Very often, the people that are decision makers have gotten there through practices of the challenges is that that are outdated, and in an environment that may no longer be we are victims of our past relevant. So when they look for successors, they’re looking for people who mimic their own skill set. What we really need are new and more success. Very often, the progressive skill sets. people that are decision For example, when we talk about adopting social media in policing, the manager’s instinct is to say “Well, that’s great, but we’re going to have makers have gotten there to control the content.” My response is that social media doesn’t work through practices that well that way. If you really start getting into social media like Twitter and Facebook, your employees must be allowed to go out and communicate are outdated, and in an messages without fearing they will be reviewed and sanctioned by people in power. Many managers aren’t going to let this happen. environment that may no longer be relevant.” It’s a huge shift of power and control. Policing is about teamwork and police officers often work at the line level in a networked, free flowing way even though administration is very hierarchical and rank oriented. The need to control is important to executives and we depend on the hierarchy to exert that control. However, I think that control is often an illusion. Real control tends to be elusive, particularly within larger departments. It’s going to take a shift in thinking to get adaptation of this new, networked way of communicating and operating. It is almost a leap of faith to abandon the desire to control at the micro-level. We have to allow the values, customs, goals and other “protocols” to control the network. As leaders, we have to shape those protocols to produce the outcomes we want. And have you seen anyone in the public sector who’s been able to do that successfully? A good example of this is a case in Pittsburgh. They created a crime consortium that includes the FBI, some universities in the area, and the private sector. Its purpose is to look at internet based crimes, a need that emerged out of the FBI’s field division. The partnership – the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance – operates more as a network in which control is distributed among the partners. Is that a model that can work for other law enforcement organizations? Yes, but that example is on a smaller scale than what’s really needed in law enforcement. Increasingly, the police have got to learn to operate networks. Right now, that’s how police agencies work with other police agencies to deal with common problems. Inevitably, we’ll need to network externally and internally to be more successful. How are innovations communicated and tracked in law enforcement? Mostly at conferences – using presentations or word or mouth. Chiefs will get together and they’ll talk about what’s working for them. We also learn a lot through trade publications. Anticipate. Activate. Innovate. | Future Think LLC © 2005–10 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY www.getfuturethink.com
  • 4. the innovator’s interview 4 John Jackson What constitutes ‘innovation’ in your world? Even though cities are different, very often we experience similar problems in our police work. In cities all across the nation, you’ll find “[Innovation] tends to be trial different types of programs to solve the issues you’re dealing with – by fire. We come up with a because everyone is dealing with the same things. So, when we have a recurring problem such as drunk driving, open air drug markets, graffiti problem, and then captains or gang problems, and somebody comes up with a solution that seems to work, that’s where innovation gets applied. The success spreads via over in particular police word of mouth, and people start adopting what worked. districts, or the managers Innovation also gets applied on the micro level. We’ll come up with a new tool, using a new technique for something like license plate that oversee these areas, will scanning, or a particular city will start setting surveillance cameras in apply different strategies to public spaces that seems to work and reduce crime. Those tools and techniques are a little lower on the radar, but they get spread. deal with the problems.” How much of your innovation is leveraged from learnings or developments in the private sector? Many of our new tools come from the private sector. I’m not sure that the policing ‘industry’ has been of a scale that vendors want to focus on it; it’s been somewhat of a niche market. As a result, the big players aren’t innovating or creating many products for us. You therefore wind up getting niche vendors who are taking their existing technology and adapting it to police work. For example, a company will take their existing camera technologies and say, “how can we adapt this so that police departments can use it?” The consequence is that we don’t often get to economies of scale that really drive those prices down and these technologies tend to be too expensive for a lot of departments to buy. As a result, the number of departments that can actually afford them tends to be relatively low. This is improving because I think information technology and advances in manufacturing are making it more feasible for companies to target law enforcement as a sector exclusively. We’re seeing some of that with patrol cars. Most of our police vehicles around the country are Ford’s Crown Victoria, the GM Impala, or the Chrysler Charger. Car makers are simply finding additional uses for an existing vehicle. But now, there’s a company out of Atlanta, called Carbon Motor Companies, that is designing a car built specifically for police work. They are not taking a production model car and adapting it to police work. It’s designed from the ground up for policing purposes. How much are police forces participating in the development of those types of innovations? Many of these technology companies have added people to their Board of Advisors to help them. They also invite police officers to be on their advisory panel to help guide and best meet police departments’ needs. They’re actively trying to bring police officers into their design process. How does innovation occur in police work? It tends to be trial by fire. We come up with a problem, and then captains over in particular police districts, or the managers that oversee these areas, will apply different strategies to deal with the problems. Whenever Anticipate. Activate. Innovate. they come up with a solution that seems particularly effective, it gets | Future Think LLC © 2005–10 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY www.getfuturethink.com
  • 5. the innovator’s interview 5 John Jackson analyzed and it gets copied. Then, if it’s successful enough, it’ll be bragged about to other police departments and they’ll pick up on it. The other way that innovation sometimes occurs is that they’ll give a “As part of innovating what special unit or task force a problem to tackle, like robbery. And then, we do, we are starting to the innovation happens on the line. Those special projects are not documented nearly as well because it’s seen as a kind of street-level pay more attention to what’s innovation may not be easy to generalize. The nature of policing is very distributed. and police agencies are very hierarchical except successful and why things are when you actually get to delivering the service. It’s very much like a successful when they happen. swarm, it self organizes. It’s important because with When you say it’s like a swarm when things are actually starting to innovation, you should try take off, what do you mean by that? When an event happens – a robbery, for example, the call goes into to understand both your our computer system and officers will volunteer for it or self organize around it and monitor the dispatcher information. If somebody successes and your failures.” needs backup, the dispatcher doesn’t have to tell somebody to do it. Somebody’s usually volunteering and saying, “I’m close by, I’ll go do it.” If an officer needs help, if he’s actually is in danger and puts out a call for help, then nobody needs to tell anybody to do it. It just happens. So, it seems that in one sense we’re a very decentralized organization. When we’re actually out on the street, we operate with little direction. At the same time, we’re very hierarchically bound when acting as a centralized, bureaucratized agency. After an event happens, how often do teams discuss what could have been done better or what things worked well? Within police work, discussions happen when things go badly. We’re trained to find what’s wrong. As a result, we tend to focus on the negative rather than on the positive. That’s why an appreciative inquiry is not a normal method of looking at things for us. As part of innovating what we do, we are starting to pay more attention to what’s successful and why things are successful when they happen. It’s important because with innovation, you should try to understand both your successes and your failures. How does the police force incorporate foresight and futurism into what they do on a day to day basis? Foresight and futurism are not incorporated into the profession broadly. Some agencies will engage in low-level futurism, tracking trends and conducting horizon scanning. Keep in mind, the average organization is about 10 people. Most police departments in this country don’t have the resources to keep on top of future trends because they deliver a broad range of police services with a very small number of people. There is a group – the Society of Police Futurists International of which I’m president – that seeks to change this, to spread the use of futures methods through the profession. We often refer to our group as PFI. We act as a community of practice to facilitate the sharing of information and dialogue. I am also a member of the Futures Working Group, which is a joint venture between PFI and the FBI. We develop publications that target police leaders, informing them of trends, possible future Anticipate. Activate. Innovate. scenarios for police work, the potential threats that are on the horizon, | Future Think LLC © 2005–10 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY www.getfuturethink.com
  • 6. the innovator’s interview 6 John Jackson and success stories to be aware of. PFI and FWG are trying to help the profession meet its “futuring” needs. That’s why we came to be. Do you have a favorite technique you use to get police leadership to do some visioning? One of my favorites is called Ten Years From Now. I ask them to envision 10 years in the future and imagine that everything they want to come true has come true. Now, describe that. They can be very articulate and specific in their answers; it’s amazing, actually. But why is this so amazing? Because in police work you’re almost never asked these types of questions, let alone given latitude to answer them. With this exercise, you’re giving them permission to dream. Once we have articulated the vision, we can identify common ground or, even better, the great ideas that are magnetic. After we’ve settled on a worthy destination, we can do a backcasting exercise to build a roadmap with milestones to achieve the vision. What would be the biggest piece of advice you would give to another organization in the public sector who’s trying to get an innovation program or a foresight practice up and running? What roadblocks should they watch out for? What things must they pay attention to and do? First of all, you have to be diplomatic and you’re going to run into pushback. You’ve got to approach things in a very inclusive way. I think trying to bring stakeholders in is always good. More is better than less, but you can get pushback from power groups. Secondly, you need to develop an environment in which people are able to brainstorm, to throw out a half-baked idea and get it knocked around a little bit without being personally reprimanded for it. Leadership must create a safe space where people can engage in divergent thought without being punished. Anticipate. Activate. Innovate. | Future Think LLC © 2005–10 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY www.getfuturethink.com
  • 7. the innovator’s interview 7 John Jackson What can you learn from the Police Futures approach to innovation? • Change leadership mindset: In conservative sectors, the biggest barrier to innovation is often leadership itself. What are some quick wins you can do that get leadership more comfortable with taking smart risks with innovation? How can you get them involved in the process to get behind it? • Give permission to envision the future: Too often, teams have ideas about the future and what they’d like it to be, but aren’t given the time or permission to even discuss it. Use a ‘Ten Years from Now’ exercise with your team to learn their thoughts on where they see your business or industry heading. • Leverage communications and networks: There may be other organizations or teams working to solve the same issues you face – do you know who they are? Do you connect with others to share approaches to the similar issues that you face? To learn more about the research, tools and training you need to better innovate, visit us at getfuturethink.com. Anticipate. Activate. Innovate. | Future Think LLC © 2005–10 Reproduction prohibited | New York NY www.getfuturethink.com

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