In the next 6 minutes, I’m going to tell you how this place (show slide of US Capitol) with your help, could be the most innovative place to work in America. Don’t believe it’s possible?Well I work as a staffer in Congress, and I’m here to tell you how together, we as citizens can take Congress from shutdown to startup…
I’ve been very lucky so far in my career in public service. I’ve been fortunate enough to work as a C-17 pilot in the Air Force, and as a staffer in the SenateYet it’s always struck me that one of these institutions – the military - has a public approval rating of 76%. \And the public approval rating of Congress is only 11%, the lowest since they started tracking. Yet I’m the same person, dedicated to the same mission – public service. And I’m lucky to work with a lot of people in Congress driven towards the same goal and invested in a BETTER OUTCOME.I’m a staffer for a Senator. Every day in my job I advise my boss on some of the toughest national security issues for Virginia, where I grew up. Capitol Hill is a marketplace for ideas, and my job is like being on the trading floor of policy - in an hour I could handle issues ranging from Afghanistan to the GI Bill to Syria to phone calls from military families.I believe in the work we do, and the people I get to work with. But I know we can do BETTER.…..I was recently out in Silicon Valley where was talking with a friend who works for one of the top innovative companies of our time. And he works with start ups every day. He told me “The startup world doesn’t need Congress,” he said.
“Congress is too slow. It’s irrelevant. It’s not even as good as TV”I’m sure some of you are thinking the same thing. Your perception of Congress right now is that it’s dysfunctional. It’s broken. There’s nothing we can do to fix it. As someone who works there, I get it. You think you’re frustrated with our nation’s capital?Try dating in DC.
But I’m proposing that we reimagine what our Congress COULD BE. That these two things – the startup world, and the seat of democracy, aren’t as different as they may seem, and in fact, Congress can and should be a lot better and could learn a lot from the startup culture that’s so popular in America right now. It starts by reframing how we ALL think about Congress. As a society, we’ve come to value startups like Uber or Pinterest in making change. There’s no reason we can’t use the same innovative thinking from Silicon Valley in our day to day operations in Congress.
I mean, Members of Congress can’t live without Twitter….and a few of them REALLY should live with out it.
Capitol Hill should be like 535 startups…at some level, we have a lot of things in commonJustlike a startup, we’re understaffedUnderresourcedThere are 535 staffers just like me, who might be the only one dedicated to a portfolio covering as big as defense – a nearly $700 billion dollar agency - for their entire stateAn office full of people who are passionate about what we doWorking for a freshman Senator is definitely like a startup, for 6 months we were 35 people packed into three rooms in a basement with a backlog of 27,000 pieces of mail. Like a startup, getting your ideas ahead in Congress requires tenacity, and persistenceBut what can we learn from a startup community to do our jobs better?Imagine a Congress where you have as much faith in its decision-making power as in the smartphone in the palm of your hand.
So does it surprise you that this is still our #1 form of communication in Congress?
And we should apply this to how we do our work.Yes, there may be politics. There may be bickering and partisanship. But by and large, the staff are congenial, work well together, and work in a bipartisan manner. The minute we stop working together Startups operate on Collaboration: In the Senate, there are only about 6 common areas - coffee shops or cafeterias – where staffers can easily meet outside of personal offices of committees, and beyond party lines and chambers. How might we harness the power of these collaborative areas to do more? We can start small – my colleagues and I are still working on placing white boards in these areas, as an experiment to enhance collaboration and bring ideas to the surface.
Prototyping: In start ups, it’s all about testing your solutions thru prototyping. On Capitol Hill, we prototype by bouncing ideas off constituents and interest groups. Our best ideas come from you – in fact, my boss’s first piece of legislation came from conversations he had on the campaign trail. But there must be a way we can better test our legislation, and prototype across party lines or Chambers. (I mean, we’re not just working towards an IPO, we’re striving to create a more perfect union here…)So why not a bipartisan “incubator” – similar to what we see with startups – but for legislation?
Finally, but most importantly, we need the mentality of the startup community, not just the tools to fix a certain broken website – but the MINDSET to tackle the toughest problemsAnd, what can we learn when things get tough. Why is it that we’re so forgiving of failure in the startup world, but when our government hits bumps in the road, we disengage?
Think Congress doesn’t matter?Just ask any veteran that’s gone to war.
So today I’m looking for investors, in OUR startup. OUR Congress. I’m not just talking to the staff that can make changes in the way we do our work. I’m talking to you, the citizens who are the investors, and remind you WHAT’s AT STAKE. During times like these, it’s easy to think about DC as insiders/outsidersI’m asking you to bring a healthy disregard for the impossible, and get involved. Educate yourself, demand more from your representatives, vote, volunteer, take action, to invest and bring your Congress from shutdown to startup