The Queen is one of the richest ladies in England, worth over £7 billion (pounds) from the property she owns.
Yet, due to an Act of Parliament from the 1700s, she gives it all away. Over £200 million every year, in fact, this year it was £230 million.
In return she receives about £40 million, most of which she returns to the State for official functions to include paying staff salaries, maintaining estates, and hosting around 50,000 people every year.
All in all, it means that she donates £2 and 60 pence to every person in the UK.
A pretty cool deal, which makes it all the more strange that most think she is a freeloader. I think the common perception is that she is broke, borrowing money, and wasting taxpayer dollars.
It helps to remember that back in the day, the king was typically the richest person in the kingdom. Money was the source of his power and required to rule. In fact, the most problematic kings in history were the poor ones, relying on others, in debt, and forced into awkward/bad situations…
“Last Friday was my last day at the White House. As I begin my fellowship at Harvard University, I’d like to share my reflections on public service…”
So begins, Vivek’s 12-page summary of his time in the Obama administration (the full version can be found via Alex Howard’s GovFresh piece).
I’ve been a big fan of Vivek’s, since his days as the CTO of Washington, DC. When he was named the first Fed CIO, it was big news in the tech community, especially in DC.
Each and every move he made, we followed. You have to remember that during the Bush years the exciting news was that the White House press core “had a blogger” (not to mention Bush didn’t use email). Then Obama came into office full of blackberry, twitter, facebook, and web prowess.
Every geek in the nation was rooting for some gear to get into the White House. We wanted cell phones, laptops (Macbooks!), modern websites, social media, podcasts, etc.
In the midst of this Bush/Obama collision arrived Vivek, fresh off amazingly innovative programs in DC: real-time tracking of city projects, GIS for municipal services, and co-location of engineers in schools.
Then he hit the Federal bureaucracy.
On the first day “they handed me a stack of documents with $27 billion worth of technology projects…years behind schedule…millions over budget.”
“Those documents were what passed for real-time updates on the performance of IT projects. My neighbor’s ten-year-old could look up the latest stats of his favorite baseball player on his phone on the school bus, but I couldn’t get an update on how we were spending billions of taxpayer dollars while at my desk in the White House.”
That stack of documents became his fighting spirit. No IT professional could claim any cred if they worked off binders and printouts.
“…from a small, nondescript office in downtown Washington, we spent many long nights fueled by coffee, thinking big about how we could transform our Government through technology.”
“I was ready to embark on a technology revolution…that would crack down on wasteful spending; increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government; enable an open, transparent, and participatory democracy; advance the cybersecurity posture of the nation; and most importantly, improve delivery of citizen services.”
Yeah, he was on fire.
The first big step was to bring that same real-time tracking pioneered in DC to the Federal Government, which is a lot like going from a tricycle to a spaceship.
“The Federal Government is the largest purchaser of IT on the planet, with over $80 billion spent on over 12,000 systems every year…to shine a light on (that spending) we launched the federal IT Dashboard in June 2009.”
“The Dashboard is a website where people can monitor every IT project..as easily as they can monitor their personal investment portfolios. If a project is over budget, or behind schedule, the Dashboard tells you so – and shows a picture of the person in charge.”
You gotta love the picture of the person in charge. Imagine having your face next to a project that is $100 million over budget. In quick order they “saved $3 billion and cut the time to deliver projects in half.”
And then to show that good ideas have legs, they “open-sourced the IT Dashboard and released all of our training materials. Within hours, 38 states and multiple countries reached out to express interest in adopting it to improve transparency and accountability. It’s already been downloaded more than 2,500 times across the world.”
Within months we went from a President who doesn’t have email to open source code!
My favorite section from the piece is not the numbers and projects but the personal anecdotes that Vivek shares. It’s part of what, in my opinion, makes him such a great leader (and great person).
“I was born in New Delhi, India, and lived in Tanzania until I was eleven. I came to America in 1985…I couldn’t speak English when I first arrived. I recall my first days at school in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and seeing a couple of African American kids around my age. They reminded me of my friends in Tanzania, so I walked up to them and starting speaking in Swahili. I was promptly met by strange looks, so I started speaking even louder to make sure they understood me. I suspect they thought I was making fun of them because the next thing I knew, I was being beaten up. Not the warm welcome I was expecting.”
But back to the tech: we get to the biggest project of his tenure, cloud computing.
“With the economy facing the worst recession since the Great Depression, one program – Cash for Clunkers – provided rebates to people who traded in older cars for new, more fuel-efficient ones. But just three days after its launch, the system for processing these rebates collapsed.”
“One hot DC August night during the height of this mess, I emerged at 4 a.m. from the Department of Transportation after 14 straight hours working…to keep servers online and the site operational.
“When I was Director of Infrastructure Technology in Arlington County, I knew down to the street address where each of our data center facilities was located and what was in them. Yet when I asked how many data centers the Federal Government had, nobody could give me the answer.
“It took agencies eight months to produce an initial inventory of their data centers. All told, the number of Federal data centers has more than quadrupled since 1998, from 432 to more than 2000. Yet on average, they are only 27 percent utilized.
“That’s why the Federal Government is actively shutting down 800 data centers by 2015.”
As of now the Federal Government is moving full speed into the cloud.
Which, of course, brings up the security concerns. As more of our critical systems go online we face an increasing risk of cataclysm.
“From power plants to stock exchanges, hospitals to banks, our Nation’s critical infrastructure systems are increasingly wired and, as a result, increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks.”
Finally, the last of Vivek’s projects, transparency.
“In this approach we also need to be mindful, however, that security is used too often as an excuse to justify the Government operating in a closed, secretive, and opaque manner.
“We almost have an IT cartel that’s made up of a few companies that benefit from government spending because they understand the procurement process better than anyone else, not because they provide better technology.
His response was to re-create the Apps for Democracy program but in a bigger, more permanent way.
“…we threw open DC’s warehouse of public data so that everyone – constituents, policymakers, and businesses – could meet in a new digital public square. We started with 200 live data feeds – everything from government contracts to crime statistics to economic development. And to spur citizens to turn this data into applications that the government didn’t have the resources to create on its own, we launched the “Apps for Democracy” contest, offering prizes for the best applications based on the data we released.
“We ran Data.gov like a lean start-up. On day one, we launched with a Minimum Viable Product with only 47 datasets. Two years later, there are 389,907 datasets covering every government mission area, from health care to public safety.
“Data.gov has spawned a global movement – 21 nations, 29 states, 11 cities, and several international organizations have established open data platforms.
In many ways Vivek is not a traditional White House appointee. His projects were big but not flashy. They tackled the hardest problems big IT faces (spending, cloud, security, and openness) and did so in a lasting way. Each of these projects are now fundamental elements of the Federal Government, which is an awesome legacy.
Americans may not know his name or even understand his work, but in Vivek’s own words: “We saved billions in taxpayer dollars; we adopted game changing technologies; we strengthened the cybersecurity posture of the nation while making it more open, transparent, and participatory.”
A truly successful CIO.
Good luck to you, Vivek, in your new position:
“…my work at Harvard, focusing on how we can use information technology to solve our nation’s and the world’s most pressing problems.
I was looking at this incredible collection of Apple Computer ads and noticed that the very first one in 1977 has this smart-looking fellow in a turtleneck. Scroll down to the second ad from 1977 and there it is, another turtleneck.
Lol, right, at least they’re not black. Maybe Steve Jobs was more colorful in those early days? After these two ads no turtleneck ever appeared in an Apple ad (as far as I can tell). I’m guessing some one took over the marketing from Steve…
if you really like these ads then take a look at this September 1977 issue of Scientific American. It has some awesome detail on the first ad, “Start by playing PONG. Then invent your own games using the input keyboard…”
Reminds me of a quote from the beginning lines of the movie Rounders
“Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.”
It’s nerve-wracking. Ask any elementary teacher…
One of the problems with being the smartest person in the room, is that things are never ever going to happen at a speed which is comfortable for you. This means the primary challenge for the smartest person in the room is to figure out how to communicate what you understand, to a room full of people who, through no fault of their own, can’t understand what seemed an obvious conclusion. This can be a deeply frustrating experience. It is a situation I see a lot of smart people struggle with, simply because understanding something and explaining it are two different processes.
The other problem, is that people tend to resent and feel threatened by the smartest person in the room. So, rather than appreciating their intelligence, they accuse them of being arrogant or full of themselves. Smart people often find this experience deeply disturbing and upsetting. Which is why you often find very smart people tend to develop either a tendency to quietness to avoid any unpleasantness or a brashness.
All in all, being the smartest person in the room is generally harder work than it needs to be. It isn’t enough that you are smart, because you also have to be an articulate educator, emotionally intelligent and sensitive to other people feelings. A trait, I have observed, that is rarely reciprocated.
Have kids. You will soon understand it’s irrelevant.
Sun Tzu said, when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
I think it pretty much means, pretend to be the sucker when you’re the smartest person in the room
It’s exhausting. 🙂
I do agree with Erica Friedman that when you’re the ‘maven’ in the room on a particular topic, you’re always working and never get a chance to relax.That’s why when work is done, I’m happy to find another room where I can be the student and someone else can be the maven.
To me the smartest person in the room is the one who can foster engagement and satisfaction with the whole group. It’s not about knowing the most or telling everyone else how smart you are. Everyone has something to offer – and truly the dumbest person in the room is the one who thinks what they can offer eclipses everyone else’s potential contributions.
I’m sure Oscar Wilde was the smartest person in the room, so I looked to him for an answer to this question, and here it is: “I like talking to a brick wall, I find it is the only thing that never contradicts me.”
At some point in our lives, we will all be the smartest and dumbest person in the room. Sometimes, on the same night in the same room.
What’s really cool is to be in a room with a bunch of people who are smart on a wide variety of disciplines who are all focussed on doing the one thing that can provide lasting value for the rest of us dolts out there. Better still is to be able to trust people in that same room! The cynics may refrain, “trust no one” but that is a lonely road indeed.
What’s the old saying? When a fool meets a wise man, it is the wise man who comes away having learnt something.
Depends upon the context. When I am mentoring eager, younger people it is invigorating. When I’m surrounded by closed minded bigots, it’s infuriating. When I’m at TED and not the smartest in the room, I’m thrilled.
It’s almost almost *exactly* like always being the dumbest person in the room, except they’re usually nice. Being smart just gives one many more clever ways to make or explain away mistakes.
Craiglist has been disrupted, it’s just not obvious yet. And the world will be a better place for it.
Craigslist has fewer unique visitors today than it did at this time in 2009.
Bad sites with network effects show much slower decay in use than they should based on their absolute quality. (think eBay.) Bad sites who price most of their product at free show incredibly slow decay in use. (think Craigslist). But make no mistake, it is happening.
The evidence of their poor quality is so obvious it’s hardly worth stating. Suffice it to say, if I’m looking to rent an apartment, it would be nice not to see the same listing reposted every day, and having to re-read it and figure out if I’ve called them before. It might be even nicer to view them on a map, or god forbid have new and relevant listing emailed to me.
Sites like Oodle have tried to take it head on with a superior interface but have been unable to displace them. Sites like Kijiji have been launched by eBay, or OLX, which is distributed on other people’s platforms with large traffic, have tried to leverage other sources of traffic to combat the critical mass.
Generally speaking, Craigslist has been “good enough” to not be disrupted head-on. Nevertheless, the world moves on, and the gaps in their product (due to a stubborn obstinate refusal to invest in technology) grow wider and wider. As tablets, smartphones, etc disrupt, and craigslist doesn’t invest in those platforms, the feature gap grows wider.
Stubhub, Airbnb, Etsy have built big businesses in some of these categories, and floods of new startups try to pry off pieces (TaskRabbit, many others).
I have derived a lot of utility out of Craigslist over the years, and it has all come free, so I am grateful for that. But the site reportedly pulls in more than $100M in revenue a year (What is Craigslist’s revenue?) , has only a few dozen employees, continually under-invests in technology and does not innovate. I don’t think Craig’s a bad guy, but he’s harvesting $50M a year into his pockets and not improving the site. In ten years I think Craigslist will be an afterthought, whereas if he reinvested half of those profits into technology and product, it would have a real shot to be a category leader.