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April 16, 2009

On Executing Flawlessly

Every speaker at Vice President Joe Biden's stimulus czar summit told us that the act required us to be "extremely transparent". One woman went a bit further. "The press'll be watching you", she reminded us. "If you make a mistake, they'll be all over you. So you have to execute flawlessly," she concluded.

Not going to happen. The goal of executing flawlessly for something that hasn't been practiced over and over is not only silly but counter-productive.

You can't both act quickly and flawlessly. You can't try new things without making mistakes. Three bad things happen when "execute flawlessly" is the mantra: you move extremely slowly because you're over-studying every move; you don't innovate because you can't predict the results if you do; and you hide mistakes when you make them (perhaps even from yourself) because it's career-limiting to have been wrong. I saw all three of these bad results up close when I was at the old AT&T; posted about that experience here.

In an innovative environment you KNOW you're going to make mistakes; the important thing is to recognize them quickly and learn from them. It's not making mistakes that's wrong; it's not recognizing them or, worse, covering them up.

The transparency requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA aka the Stimulus Bill) are a good idea. People ought to be able to see how their government works, mistakes and all. By the way, if you spot a mistake or worse, you can report it to us on the form at http://recovery.vermont.gov/contact_us/report_concerns. That's one way you can help us do our job better.

My colleagues and I in the Office of Economic Stimulus and Recovery DON'T promise to execute flawlessly; we know we're not going to. We have to move quickly and we have to innovate so we'll make mistakes. I'm sure we've made some already. We do promise to be transparent and to recognize and fix our mistakes as quickly as we can. And we do expect to take our lumps in the press when we make mistakes – the press won't be doing their job if they don't watch how we do ours.

In the interest of transparency, just want to set expectations realistically.

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