Start ups constantly talk about pivoting. To pivot means to change direction. So, you initially think that your product is going to provide service X, but it turns out that you need it to produce service Y because that’s what the people want. This is critical for any young business. This company, Comcastro, has already pivoted a few times behind the scenes (but we’re sneaky so you never see anything). This dynamic allows businesses to respond to the demands of the market.
Compare and contrast with government. When an agency is handed a mandate from the executive, the agency is charged with the task of completing X. It doesn’t matter whether X works or if the people no longer wish for that service. The government marches full steam ahead. This results in incompetence. Take, for example, the mismanaged launch of the healthcare exchange. Conservatives laughed at the President’s embarrassment as he tried to spin the failed launch as a good thing, but even Democrats had to admit that it was a failure. The government couldn’t even launch a website.
This may be a flaw of our government. When launching something as sophisticated as a website designed to handle millions of people interacting with it simultaneously, there are going to be a lot of bugs. There is literally no way that you can anticipate all of the bugs in advance. Or, if you think you can, then the delay until launch will be unreasonable. Windows gets around this by launching products with acceptable amounts of bugs in them and then fixing them as time goes on. In a sense, your users end up testing your product and the business can respond to the problems in real time. Smart companies then pivot and divert resources from X into Y in order to better serve their clients.
Governments don’t work like that. When Obamacare launched its website the conservatives ridiculed the President for his incompetence. The government is supposed to provide delineated services for the people. Failures in those services mean that our tax dollars are being wasted.
Or, that’s what the opposition will tell you. The reality is that governments pivot all the time. The military is a great example of this. When our strategy in Iraq was failing, President Bush charged General Petraeus with figuring out a new solution to our problems in the country. The General retooled our strategy and delivered a “victory” for the US. [The term victory is hard to use when the country is in the middle of a vicious civil war, but this post isn’t about Iraq.] President Bush received a lot of criticism from Democrats for every US life lost until we were able to quell the insurgency n Iraq. The people wanted a solution to work the first time.
Perhaps governments do pivot, but it’s done slowly and sometimes costs a lot of lives. The lesson here is that it sometimes takes more than one try to get something right. When you start doing something the end result will rarely look like what you envisioned. For governments, it’s hard to sell the people on a change in course because the people will immediately call the leaders liars, cheats, and thieves. Sometimes this derision is rightly deserved. Other times, the government needs a chance to correct course just like any other enterprise.
And if we, as a people, can’t stand the idea of a government using our limited taxpayer dollars to change course when an idea isn’t working properly, then we need to reconsider whether we want the government to accomplish that idea in the first place.