Dec 16

The Democratic Party Renews Its Commitment to Opportunity - The ION Strategy

Balancing the Independence Component are the parts of the Opportunity Component. The overall message of the Opportunity Component is that the Democratic Party is committed to providing opportunities for all Americans to be financially self-sustaining and reap the rewards of their hard work. In contrast to the Republicans who want to turn America into a cheap labor pool, Democrats want everyone to be as successful as they can for themselves and their children.

+ Small Business Friendly – Small businesses are the engine of the American economy and hire over half the workforce. The Republican Party is seen as business-friendly but their policies have been devastating to small businesses. The strategy here is to drive a wedge between the business community and capture small business owners for the Democratic Party.

+ Portable Benefits – Currently, health and retirement benefits are provided by corporations to their workers thus restricting choice and leaving workers vulnerable to raids on their pension funds. Democrats should commit to a health insurance system and retirement benefits that the person carries with them from job-to-job. This will greatly aid small businesses by cutting their benefits expenses while ensuring that citizens are not without benefits just because they are temporarily unemployed.

+ Reskilling – In today's economy, it is vital that people have the opportunities to retrain themselves and reeducated themselves throughout their work-life. Democrats should commit to education and training reform so that American workers will always have access to affordable and current training so that can maintain their earning power. Democrats should also advocate training that will aid small business owners to establish and grow their businesses in ways that benefit their communities.


These are ambitious goals and fit naturally into the values of the Democratic Party while providing new ideas that will energize the Democratic base and appeal to Independents and moderate Republicans. The advantage of the ION strategy is that other Democratic issues can be fitted into the broad strategic themes of Independence and Opportunity.

The next posting will discuss the "N" component of the ION Strategy: why promoting a National Income is the key to Democratic victory in 2020.

Dec 16

Helping the Democratic Party Become a Party of Ideas - The Independent (I) Part of the ION Strategy

Eleven years ago, I conceived of the ION Strategy as an effort to revitalize the Democratic Party after the disastrous 2004 elections. After watching the 2016 elections, it is clear that President Obama's presidency helped the Democratic message. And there is no denying that Secretary Clinton's 2.5 million+  vote margin in the popular votes proves that a majority of the country approves of Democratic policies. It is merely an unfortunate set of circumstances that allowed for Trump's narrow electoral college win.

Even so, I believe that the Democratic victory would have been secured if the Clinton campaign had concentrated on ideas rather than trading insults with Trump. Yes, Secretary Clinton had numerous policy ideas, but how hard did she push them? And Trump certainly didn't have detailed ideas. He had slogans ("Build the Wall!") but few specifics.

However, there are Republicans who are brainstorming new ideas for the Post-Trump Era. I am assuming that the 2020 Presidential Elections will be wide open for both parties. Yes, I am assuming that Trump will not run. I also assume that a Trump Presidency is going to leave plenty to fix in 2020. Thus, 2020 will be a true battle of ideas to really help make America great (or functional) again.

I start with my ideas for the Independent part of ION Strategy:


The Democratic Party should commit to the independence of American citizens. Each of topics below constrains our way of life and the freedoms flowing from the Constitution.

+ Energy Independence – Because of the reliance on foreign oil, America has to commit our troops and resources to safeguard the dwindling energy supplies. We have the technology to be energy self-reliant and all we need is the will. Let's set the goal to be energy-independent in a decade.

+ Debt Independence – America's trade deficit is enormous and China is our largest creditor. Like the Reagan years, our economy is being propped up foreign credit. If (more likely when) China and other nations stop buying America's debt, we face a severe economic crisis. We must commit to a goal of being financially-independent in a decade.

+ Media Independence – Consolidation and the 1996 Telecommunications has led to a shrunken marketplace of ideas that doesn't allow diversity of opinion. Of all the freedoms, freedom of speech is the most valued. Democrats should commit to breaking-up the media monopolies, ensuring REAL fair-and-balanced sources of news, and promoting community media.

+ Electoral Independence – After four disputed elections, the Democratic Party knows the necessity for fair and transparent election processes. Every vote must be counted and there must be a fair accounting of all votes in disputed elections. Money should not be deciding factor in any election.

+ Corporate Independence – As books and documentaries have shown, our forefathers were fearful of the power of unrestrained corporations and greatly restricted their rights. But due to a misinterpreted legal footnote, modern corporations enjoy the same protections under the 14th Amendment as do actual humans being.This protection has allowed corporations to subvert the electoral process, devastate the economies of small communities, and pollute the environment.

By removing the 14th Amendment protections of corporations, state and local communities can better regulate the devastating effects of corporations on their local economies and communities. Now, corporations will still have their limited-liability protections and be able to operate as they did before but with more accountability. This will also aid small businesses by allowing them to compete on a more-balanced playing field.

Next posting will list the Opportunity planks of the "O" component of the ION Strategy.

Dec 16

Eleven Years Ago . . . Searching for a Winning Democratic Strategy

I was revisiting some blog posts I had written back in February of 2005. These posts were inspired by the disastrous loss by Kerry/Edwards. That was another election where the projections had Kerry winning - up till he lost on election night. The usual pundits trotted out their pet theories to explain the loss and how the Democrats could win in 2008.

If you remember, that was the election where Hillary Clinton was also expected to win easily.

Now, this election is unique. Hillary did win the popular vote - overwhelmingly. And, the vote margins in the key electoral college states are razor thin. I don't think that the recounts will overturn the election. However, I do think that Trump's margin of victory will shrink substantially.

When I have talked to colleagues about this election, I refuse to point to one cause or even a few causes. I believe that there are many causes that just aligned in a highly-improbable way to give Trump just enough votes to tip over the key states.

If I had to pick a single cause, I will go back to what I wrote over ten years ago - the Democratic Party has run out of ideas.

In future posts, I will write about a strategy that will help the Democratic Party win the ideas race with the Republican Party.

I call it the ION Strategy - Independence, Opportunity, and National. Like the ion engine used on space probes, this strategy is slow at first but, builds up speed over time to become the fastest method of propulsion we have today.

Dec 15

Beware the Sith Mentor

In the last two postings [Part One and Part Two], I described ten pieces of advice I would give anyone entering government service. These were lessons that I learned from working in state and Federal government as a paralegal, HR specialist, a data scientist, and a training professional. Summing up the first ten items - be resourceful and innovative while treating barriers as challenges to overcome. Keep an open but skeptical mind.

My last piece of advice is about how to be properly mentored. I have had several good mentors, and they greatly helped me grow and develop in my career. The kind of mentors you see in Star Wars such as Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda. Mentors that challenge you because they believe in you more than you do (especially in the early stages of your career). They tell you the truth even if it is not what you want to hear at the time. They advocate for you but are also aware of your limitations and will not put you in a situation you could not handle. If you find such a mentor, be thankful for the lessons you will learn. Also, there is no reason you cannot have several part-time mentors in different areas.

However, just as there are good mentors, there are bad mentors. Continuing the Star Wars analogy, there are the Sith Mentors. Not all bad mentors are Sith Mentors. I’ve had several bad mentors who were bad because they didn’t take an interest in being mentors (“Another job on my list,” one bad mentor told me); they really had nothing to teach; or they were not good role models (one assigned mentor had four personnel actions filed against them so I knew this mentor couldn’t get along with people). It has been my experience that having a mentor assigned to you is a mistake. Seek out your mentor rather than wait for the HR department to send you one.

The Sith Mentor is very different from the good mentor or even the usual bad mentor. Sith Mentors are looking for fresh blood to help the Sith Mentor stay in power or gain power. This Mentor will tell you what you want to hear; even if it contradicts what he or she said the last time you spoke. The Sith Mentor is secretive about their past, and only share tantalizing nuggets of information or resources. The Sith Mentor will tell you how they praised you in front of superiors but, in actuality, the Sith Mentor criticizes your abilities and knowledge behind closed doors with your superiors and peers. The Sith Mentor will put you in situations where you are bound to fail (often due to the covert machinations of the Sith Mentor) so that the Sith Mentor can come in and save you from failing.

The Sith Mentor justifies this by telling you that you are “paying your dues.” What is going on is that the Sith Mentor realized early on that he or she could get ahead by using the efforts and ideas of others and presenting other people’s work as their own. The Sith Mentor will be the one telling you not to worry about who gets the credit but, the Sith Mentor’s name is at the top of the list when the work is being presented. Even when you are credited with the work, the Sith Mentor is behind you telling how it was their advice and experience that helped you achieve. Fail to show the proper gratitude and you are just being “emotional” or “ungrateful.” The Sith Mentor does not worry about losing you as a mentee; they often have several mentees at one time and will often pit the mentees against each other to fight for the Sith Mentor’s favor. The Sith Mentor often leaves a trail of disillusioned mentees behind him or her as the Sith Mentor advances in his or her career.

How do you avoid the Sith Mentor?
• Take your time in choosing a mentor. Sith Mentor’s will often rush to offer their mentoring before the new government employee can find out the Sith Mentor’s reputation.
• Observe your potential mentor for several months before approaching him or her. Do they have integrity? Are they well-respected by his or her colleagues? What do people say about the potential mentor when the mentor is not around?
• If the potential mentor has current mentees or former mentees, ask the mentees’ honest opinions. Be careful of the mentees that have nothing but praise for the mentor. Sith Mentors are expert at creating amazing loyalty in mentees. Look for a balanced appraisal of the potential mentor.
• Consider having more than one mentor. A sounding board of professionals is much better than relying on one person’s advice no matter how good the mentor is.
• Document, document, document, and then document some more the work that you do. A good mentor will appreciate your documentation while it will be easier to demonstrate how you contributed to a great product. If a mentor tries to dissuade you from documenting, you have a Sith Mentor.
• If you are currently in a Sith Mentoring relationship, drop the relationship immediately. Find a good mentor if possible. Also, realize that you will have to do some work to repair the damage that the Sith Mentor did to your reputation. It will take some time and realize that the Sith Mentor is probably still criticizing you to your leadership.
• Refuse to play in any games that the Sith Mentor will try after you break off the relationship. Realize that the Sith Mentor wants to cast you as being “emotional” or “not yet ready for the responsibility.” Be civil and don’t criticize the Sith Mentor. Even so, defend yourself and your work. You may decide that you want to move on, and you do not want the damage caused by the Sith Mentor to follow you into the next job.

Again, I do not want to persuade you from not having a mentor. Public service can be confusing and challenging. Good mentors help you understand how to use YOUR talents, skills, and knowledge to become a great public servant. It has been my experience that many government workers are good, decent people willing to help each other and that there are many good mentors out there. It is rare that you will run across a Sith Mentor but, now that you know how to spot one, you know how to steer clear of his or her influence.

Dec 15

Unconventional Advice for Millennials Entering Government Service (Part 2)

Previously, on Rambling Bill: I told you how I came up with this list of advice for folks just entering government service. It may sound cynical in spots, and it is unconventional, but rest assured that all of this advice has worked for me. Now, the next five pieces of advice from the list of eleven.

The Warren Buffet Rule of Advice – This is what I use to determine when to take someone’s free advice. Imagine you are sitting on a park bench. A fellow comes up and offers to give you financial advice. Before taking the advice, ask if the fellow uses the advice himself. Is he dressed nicely? How is his bank balance? Can he buy you lunch? A good lunch?

Now, imagine Warren Buffet sits down next to you and offers you free financial advice. Does Mr. Buffet have a few hours? Would he like lunch (I am buying)? Does he mind if I take notes? Can I videotape his advice? The point is that you consider whom the person is giving the advice before taking their advice. Have they used their advice and how did it work out for them? This seems obvious, but you will be surprised how often people act on free advice without considering the source of that advice.

I Don’t Believe in the No-Win Scenario – Probably the most inspiring piece of advice I had ever received, and it was from Captain Kirk himself. You are going to face many situations in government that seem insurmountable. Moreover, like the No-Win Scenario, everything you try will not work. That is when you need to step back and look at the situation as a whole. The best way to beat a No-Win Scenario is not to get into one. The second best way is to “change the parameters of the test.” Don’t accept the rules of the situation as a given. Where can you bend the rules or escape the rules entirely? Don’t sacrifice your integrity or break the law in the process, however. However, don’t also accept every situation unquestionably. There might be some parameters you can tweak.

The Married with Children Strategy – For those who are too young to remember, The Cosby Show of the 1980s was a huge hit. This was back when there were three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC). At the time, there was a new network startup called FOX. Now, FOX had to get viewers and get viewers fast if FOX was going to be the fourth network. So, FOX created a project by the codename – “The Anti-Cosby Show.” Take the warm, family wholesomeness of The Cosby Show and create a show that was the exact opposite. Thus, Married with Children premiered and became a huge hit among the viewers who had overloaded on the sweetness of The Cosby Show. You will see the same thinking with some innovators who take an established project, program, whatever and completely reverse it. It is quick, it is easy, and, sometimes, it even works. Sometimes.

The Stargate – This metaphor comes from my favorite book on public administration: If We Can Put a Man on the Moon. This should be required reading for everyone entering the government. The book describes a ten-step process on why the government cannot seem to do the big things it used to do such as the Interstate Highway System or the Apollo Missions. Right in the middle of the process is the “Stargate.” If you are familiar with the movie of the same name or the three Stargate series that were on the Scy-Fy Channel, then you know that a Stargate allows instant travel between any two points in the universe no matter the distance. In this case, on one side of the Stargate is Congress or the President and their laws or executive orders. On the other side is your agency. Both seem like alien worlds to each other connected only through the Stargate. Anything sent from one side of the Stargate to the other side can seem distorted or totally alien. Even so, your agency has to implement the law or executive order no matter how well the agency understands what just came through the Stargate. Learning how to navigate both worlds on either side of the Stargate will help your career.

Chicken Committee Chair – Back when I was teaching in person at the University of Louisville, I would volunteer for the Communication Department’s “Soul Food for the Good” fundraiser. One year, I was selected the Chicken Committee Chair. The job of the Chicken Committee was to go to the local grocery store deli on the morning of the fundraising lunch to pick up the 200+ pieces of freshly fried chicken and bring them back to the university. When I asked who was on my committee, I was told I was the only person. “That is why you are the chair,” they said. Long story short: I burnt my fingers loading the large boxes of greasy chicken into my car, had to fight off dogs when I stopped at a traffic light, had to drive with my head out the side window because all my windows were steamed up, and my car smelled like fried chicken for about two weeks.

The point is that even though it was not a glamorous assignment and I had to do it alone, the fried chicken was the essential part of the fundraiser. Without my efforts, all we could sell were sides, and that would not have made the fundraiser the resounding success that it was. So, even if you have the “honor” of being the Chicken Committee Chair, do the best job you can and make it successful. People are counting on you.

In my last posting on advice for people entering government service for the first time, I will warn you of the danger of the Sith Mentor. He or she may not look like Darth Vader, but they can be just as deadly to your career.

Dec 15

Unconventional Advice for Millennials Entering Government Service (Part 1)

About five years ago, I was sitting in yet another boring meeting to hammer out yet another strategy that would be obsolete before we printed out the final draft. During an unscheduled break (the presenter couldn’t get their PowerPoint to work), I made a list of bits of advice that I picked up in my nearly twenty years in government. I came up with eleven items.

Starting with this post and continuing for the next two postings, I will share my advice. This isn’t the usual useful advice such as “start building your network inside and outside your agency” and “build your own environmental scanning system.” No, my advice is to help govies of all ages who are just entering the public service. Public service is rewarding and you will meet a great many devoted and accomplished individuals. Even so, there are those that get ahead by using less-than-honorable means.

Look at these pieces of advice as “defense only.” Good work and integrity always win out in the end even if the bad people seem to win in the short term. Let’s start with the first five pieces.

Cotton Candy Advice – Some “experts” create advice and strategies like they are making cotton candy at the state fair. First, sugar is heated to a liquid state. Then, a paper cone is put in the middle of a large bowl where the sugar quickly solidifies into thin strings that wrap around the cone. More and more sugar strings build on each other until you have a large cotton candy ball. It looks colorful and substantial until you start biting into it. Then, the cotton candy quickly melts into a sticky mess and you are left with a sugar high that quickly becomes a sugar crash along with a stomach ache. A steady diet of this kind of advice or projects will ruin your (mental) health and your organization’s health.

Putting Curly in a Dress – If you have watched enough Three Stooges, there will invariably be a scheme where Moe and Larry force Curly into a dress and wig. This is usually to fool a wealthy guy who can be counted to fall deeply in love with the suddenly erotic Curly. The charade works great until Curly loses the wig and the wealthy guy becomes infuriated. You will often find a similar strategy when a bad idea is dressed up with either flashy graphics, a cool infographic, or the latest management fad in hopes to make the idea more attractive. Whether the idea is implemented with lean management or uses the latest big data analytics, it’s still a bad idea underneath the dress and wig.

Poking the Badger with a Spoon – This comes from a friend of mine who told me about this analogy from a comedy film. In the film, a simpleton, Ernest, held up a sleeping badger and began poking at the animal with a spoon. Of course, the badger reacted angrily which just encouraged Ernest to keep poking while telling a group of campers not to do what he is doing at that moment. The point is that if you know what you are going to do will cause an adverse reaction, don’t do it. If you are determined to do it, then realize that you will most likely trigger an irrational reaction despite how you perceive the merits of your advice. Instead of poking the badger, think of a better approach.

Then a Miracle Occurs – This is from a famous Far Side cartoon where two scientists are before a blackboard. On the blackboard are two sets of equations with the phrase “then a miracle occurs” between the equation sets. As the one scientist says, you might want to be more explicit in this step. I’ve seen the same thing with strategies and project plans. We start off with some great goals and the expected outcomes are exactly what is needed. The problem is that there is often not a clear set of connections between the goals and the outcomes. Some may claim that this is just agile project management but even agile projects have some sense of the connections between the goals and final project product.

Adapt. Improvise. Overcome – A line from one of my favorite Clint Eastwood films, Heartbreak Ridge. Just accept the fact that in government, you will almost never have enough resources, time, and executive attention. Instead of bemoaning the situation, think of how to work with what you have and improvise a solution that will help you achieve most of what you want to accomplish. Sometimes, your improvised solution is often better than the original solution. Also, gaining a reputation as an innovative thinker and can-do person will rapidly advance your government career.

In the next posting, I will describe the next five pieces of advice. In my third posting, I will talk about the direst threat to a new govie’s career: the Sith Mentor.

Mar 15

What Can Policy Making Learn From Project Management?

Intriguing posting by the "6 Six Sig" blog where the author argues that "[p]olicy making . . . shares a lot of characteristics with Project Management." The author presents this chart as his main argument:


This is an intriguing idea and I look forward to future postings on this subject.

Jul 14

Three ways Human-Centered Design Can Create Better Government Services

In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launched Project Carrot to fight childhood obesity. The goal was to convince children to eat more fruit and vegetables. As many parents and other child caregivers realize, this is not easy. The CDC also realized the traditional method of collecting scientific information and designing the usual public health campaign was not going to work with the target audience - tweener’s.

The CDC worked with IDEO to use human-centered design to create a persuasive and non-threatening way to convince tweeners to eat their vegetables. The CDC started by interviewing children, parents, school officials, and other stakeholders in the child nutrition world. The goal was to learn how each of the stakeholders viewed the issues. From these insights, the CDC created 26 prototypes that they narrowed down to three concepts: an Internet campaign and viral video; a new way for public health officials to work with private companies; and a suite of strategic policy tools.

Project Carrot was an early example of how human-centered design (HCD) was used to design a government program. A current example of HCD in the Federal government is the GovConnect Initiative. GovConnect is a government-wide project to create a new model for the Federal workforce that is mobile, agile, and innovative. It is a radical approach to Federal employment and is being created and refined using human-centered design.

Human-centered design was also used to redesign community health worker (CHW) programs in Uganda. Thousands of children die each year from pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea due to inconsistent medical treatment by CHWs, often who are poorly trained and supervised. Several organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children, and USAID came together with the innovation firm to use human-centered design to revitalize CHW programs. One part of the eventual solution involved giving CHWs increased access to better and more portable diagnostic tools – Backpack Plus. CHWs were also supported by a team of experts to aid the newly-empowered CHWs.

What is human-centered design (HCD) and why is it such a powerful tool? Human-centered design starts with a thorough understanding of the user’s needs which are then used to frame the problem. A number of techniques (such as “stakeholder mapping” and “affinity diagrams”) are used to build a deeper understanding – “empathy” – of the user’s motivations for the solution. Then, various concepts are prototyped and tested by the user. The early prototypes are crude and quickly put together so that HCD team can quickly “fail forward” to a solution that most effectively solves the problem while best meeting the user’s needs.

Both the examples above demonstrate the three ways human-centered design (HCD) can help government employees develop better government services and policies:

1)      HCD gets you into the worlds of your stakeholders – many of the HCD techniques revolve around understanding who your stakeholders are and what are their needs, wants, and interests.

2)      You approach your problem from many different perspectives – HCD techniques compel you to view your problem or opportunity from several angles so that you gain a thorough understanding and generate more innovative solutions.

3)      Construct a robust solution by iteratively prototyping ideas – a significant part of HCD is building prototypes to test out observations and ideas. The concept is that it is often better to build a rough-and-ready prototype to both communicate and test ideas. Prototyping is often quicker and more insightful than yet another strategy document or project plan.

If you would like to learn more about human-centered design, start with these resources:

May 14

Video Briefing on Lean Scope Project Management

Click on the picture below to view the video (opens in a new window). I welcome your comments and suggestions. Thank you,
Bill Brantley

Video Intro