The Internet, the White House, and You (and Me)
Jason Goldman
43512

Seasons for a glorious task

Jason Goldman (@goldman), the new Chief Digital Officer at the White House, asked:

How can we — our government and you and your communities — better connect online to make America better?

John Gall writes:

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.

Whatever you help create in the next 21 months, Jason, I hope it will follow the pattern of your former endeavors. Twitter couldn’t have been reduced to anything simpler without losing its essence.

As with a 140-character limit, tight constraints provide just what creativity craves.

37Signals echoes the thought:

Constraints drive innovation and force focus. Instead of trying to remove them, use them to your advantage.

You have 21 months to accomplish your part in the Glorious Task. I propose you apply the rules that worked for you in the past. Here’s one way to do it (though smarter people like you and those who surround you now will certainly be able to improve this tenfold).

Create artificial boundaries. Set strict restraints. And reduce your solution mercilessly until you reach its essence.

I love TV. Maybe you do, too. Breaking work into seasons, just like a TV series, helps me to create my own artificial boundaries around my work. I give a season a theme, then break the work into episodes. A season might have 3 episodes, or it might have 13. Or not. It’s up to me. Suddenly, I’m freed from things like calendar months or financial quarters or other time-boundaries of which I am not in total control. You have 21 months. That, you can’t control. But if you break the time into seasons of your own desired length, suddenly you aren’t constrained by anyone else’s terms (heh). Assign each season a theme, and reserve the right to change the themes as you go. Then announce Season 1 right here, on Medium.

Here are my suggestions for one way you could structure your seasons:

Season 1: “Ask, Listen, Watch”

Let us build something for you. You said you will spend the first portion of your time listening. Why not also spend it watching. Watch what we can create, if you give us a crystal clear request and a deadline.

We. The single most powerful word in our democracy may be “we,” but it’s also the most powerful word in community-driven software development. Ask us to build something for you in your Season 1.

Let’s say you asked us to build you something like this:

Create a way for anyone with a phone to ask a simple question about a law or if something is legal, and receive a straightforward answer in less than 5 minutes.

Or like this:

Create a way for an online community to agree on important topics, draft its own legislation, debate it, finalize it, and then put it to an internet vote. Any proposal that wins a majority of the internet vote will be recreated as a bill and debated by the House and Senate.

Or like this:

Demo a system that would enable the US Postal Service to handle local mail deliveries with small drones, paving a path to break-even for the organization.

Or like this:

Create a YouTube channel that earns at least 100,000 young adult subscribers by explaining current domestic issues, legislation, and international relations in ways that connect with them. Show massive engagement. Show growth.

Then ask a team like Alex Blumberg’s Gimlet Media to follow the whole thing with a captivating podcast series that highlights a few of the most interesting teams. Trust me, we’d listen.

At the end of the season, present your favorites to your team to choose a winner. Or ask Reddit to choose. Invite the teams who built the best things to the White House. Maybe even help the winning team meet the President.

Season 2: “Simplify, Support”

From there, take what we built. Simplify it to it’s essence. Then focus the rest of the season on supporting whatever it is as you release it. The dreamers and makers in this country can do unbelievable things with a glorious, well-defined, open-source task.

Seasons 3, 4…

From there…you’ll know what to do. The simple thing will grow more complex. Eventually, your time at the White House will end. But if we do it right, what we create will bloom into something more glorious and long-lasting than any of us ever dreamed.

I wish you the best, @goldman, and congratulations on your new gig!

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