The Talent War will be the next World War

The Talent War will be the next World War


I have been speaking casually to colleagues & friends about “Lean Government” – the idea of a Government adopting best practices for quick & efficient decision making – for the past year or two. Given the recent Government Shuffle in France, I’ve formalized those thoughts.

I pose to you, reader, a hypothesis: the increase in “global mobility” will lead to an overhaul in how governments view their citizens. For me, global mobility is the ability for a citizen of one country to transplant himself elsewhere.

I myself am I a dual Irish/American citizen (not as uncommon as you would think, given that all I needed was one grandparent born in Ireland), which means that I can live in any of the 26 Schengen countries, the UK & Ireland, the United States, and a handful of other countries with minimal effort. In essence, I can choose between which government – and concurrently, in which country I’d like to live – similar to how one chooses which smartphone to buy.

Disassociating Citizen, Company & Country

I first began thinking about this in France, when I noticed that there was a lack of disassociation between the French startup ecosystem and the French government, and, thus, individuals were often drawing conclusions between what the French government did and how it would affect French startups, and vice versa. My counter argument, of course, was that if a 3% tax increase stops you from building a company, then you were never going to succeed in the first place – a higher level of risk tolerance is required.

We have already begun disassociating between Country, Company & Citizen. Today, Government’s call it Fiscal Exile for individuals, or Fiscal Optimization, for companies. From a entrepreneur’s point of view, this is called Hacking – finding loopholes & weaknesses in the system and exploiting them without ever breaking the law – it’s a Con.

Government Competition – A History

Government’s have always competed against each other, and always over the same two things: land & ideology (political & religious). This is because the only way to wage war was with citizens, and the only thing citizens will fight for is ideology & land. Sometimes it was a small amount of land & a large amount of ideology (a good example in current events today), sometimes it was a lot of land and a lot of Ideology (World War II, the Holy Wars, Manifest Destiny, …) – Wars are rarely fought for a little ideology & a little land.

Startups will force Lean Government

The Startup Revolution has demonstrated that a small amount of people with a large drive can large amounts of change – two PhDs from Stanford who would go on to build Google, a college drop-out who would build Apple with his friend in a garage –  the future in government competition is about Talent. Smarter people produce more revenue, produce more taxes, produce more jobs. This alignment between people and taxes is higher than its ever been, thanks largely to the Internet.

Governments have been increasingly working on “Talent VISAs,” and the increase in globally present Internet companies mean that, should they want to, Google, Microsoft, Apple & others can get you a VISA into almost any country that you want – citizenship no longer matters if these companies decide you’re ‘worth it.’

In Europe, many Governments have already overtly named large tech multinationals as competitors – they’ve declared war on their ability to attract talent, to optimize their revenue, and their ability to circumvent regulation that affects local incumbents. Governments aren’t just competing with each other (more than ever), they are competing with companies who can circumvent their authority.

What does Lean Government look like?

Lean Government looks a lot like a Lean Startup – Learn, Build, Measure – which means that internally, you could imagine more rapid elections, leveraging smartphones in order to enable citizens to vote immediately based on previous performance.

Lean Government only does what it is best at. It manages only that which it deems critical to society – defense, safety, health, and public goods – and regulates only that which it deems could potential impede that which it manages.

Lean Government strives to be as small as possible. Lean Government measures ROI on all activity (although profitability is not always the goal with certain investments, there is always a measurable ‘benefit’).

Lean Government scales up its ability to appease its citizens – citizens feel that their government listens to them, and they feel that among their smartest citizens are those who work in Government, balancing out the many elements at play.

Lean Government creates an environment that would allow those who wish to succeed to do so, enables its citizens to find employment (inside of its borders or outside), and balances out the benefits it offers its citizens with the taxes it imposes on them.

Much like no company succeeds through imitations of prior success, France will never be more China than China, more USA than the USA, more UK than UK, or more Germany than Germany. Alignment of societal ideology and political practice should be the goal, the achievement of which results in a Lean Government.

Where are we today?

Today, there are few examples of a Government that is 100% aligned with its citizens – citizens interests are constantly evolving, and no government moves fast enough to keep up with that. The growing sentiment that ones government does not represent their interests is largely due to how quickly society is moving in the Internet Age, and how slow Government has been to adopt, adapt, and adjust.

Citizens want, more than ever, convenience. They want to live wherever they think most represents their desires. They want to work wherever they want to live. Apple identified the ‘consumer first, entreprise last’ attitude that society has come to adopt. Consumers don’t make concessions, they just buy somewhere else. Today, I want to live in Paris, so I do. Tomorrow, I might live in NYC, because I want to. Wherever I am, I will do the job I want to do, because I want to. There barriers of communication, travel, distance & government which used to force concession no longer exist, and consumers will dictate the terms of the next era.

Governments which adapt more quickly – not to the system that exists today, but to the global economy which will exist tomorrow – will be able to surpass their neighbors quickly. If they react to what citizens want – particularly, those citizens who are more likely to affect change – they will attract more citizens of the same type.

In Conclusion

Coming back to my initial hypothesis – “the increase in “global mobility” will lead to an overhaul in how governments view their citizens.” – I believe the argument is coherent. Citizens have increased mobility, and, therefore, can choose where they want to live, which governments they want to ‘buy’ from – thanks largely to increasing numbers of multinationals – and therefore, governments must adapt to this climate, embracing the consumer-oriented society that we live in.

Consumer-oriented government, I argue, will be Efficient (because we expect it to not waste our money) & will be Lean (because we demand results today, and we see in our everyday lives the amount of data & analysis we have access to). This means that Governments will compete against each other to create the best environments for their citizens, as this is the only way to attract Talent (“Talent” being citizens in demand by other governments (as citizens) & corporations (as employees)).

On Inequality

There is much to be said about the underlying inequality of much that is mentioned above. Certainly the idea of “Humans need not apply” comes to mind, but I will only say that I believe that the global dissemination of the Internet will enable all to have access to the same education, the same job opportunities, and thus, an equal quality of life, should they desire it. Inequality will always exist, but I believe Bill Gates when he says that there will be no poor countries by 2035.

3 Responses

  1. capital2blogs

    Lean government, in France……… yeah right!! Nice article though Liam.

  2. olivier

    There are a few problems with your reasoning and some good points. I am not a lèche-cul so I will go straight to the problems. The first one concerns the goal you give the government. You add “public goods” to Adam Smith’s definition; which are a pain to define. They can include anything from education to eating foie gras each Saturday… By defining public goods, you establish a political point of view (you can say “ideology”). That lead me to my second point (and later third point); how can you evaluate an ideology (and the government that embodies it)? The market will not help you on that and you need perfect information and very rational people to do it. My last thought relates to the environment, but I assume it can extend to other areas; how do you regulate (or handle) the use of non renewable ressources or “public goods?” Should future generations be taken into account? in a society based on the notion of progress, the ideology claims that science and technological progress will lead us to a better future. I don’t know if that will be true, but with a lot of scandals involving nuclear energy, fracking, and GMO’s, this ideology is not as strong as you think.

  3. Harry Kenworthy

    Major points have been missed by the author. We have been working implementing Lean in Government for the last 9 years. The key fundamentals to success:
    1. Every employee must be able to understand, find and help eliminate wastes.
    2. Every employee must be equipped with the skillset to identify and solve problems. This could be “5 Whys”, Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), or more sophisticated techniques.
    3. All supervisors at every level (including the top) must have a high respect for people and they are dedicated to ensuring #1 and #2 happen with their direct reports through very active coaching coupled with deliberate practice to develop new habits (and culture).

    Improvements are driven by understanding:
    A. “How are we doing?” in alignment with what is our purpose/mission? In virtually all government engagements we’ve had, these questions don’t have answers. So, the organization doesn’t understand how we are doing and where we need to get to meet true customer needs. How easy is it for our citizens to experience “one-stop shopping” government service?.
    B. What does our data tell us? Assuming there is real data that is meaningful to identify the areas with greatest leverage for improvements (which there usually isn’t).
    C. Benchmarking best practices – learn from other government entities that are doing things well – they establish your new baseline to improve from. Don’t develop and improve in a vacuum – steal shamelessly and legally from others.
    D. What laws, statutes and ordinances are really in place? How have they morphed over time to something else from what was intended? How many should be consolidated/really reviewed/eliminated?
    E. How do we get everyone to spend the necessary time focusing on what is the true problem before we go out and create a bunch of misguided solutions (many times called laws)?
    E. And the list goes on…

    How do we get there? The big challenge: truly great leadership that “gets it” and will do the right things for the right reasons for the greater good with high humility. We have not seen many of these candidates in the public sector, but when we find them, awesome things can happen.

    For example: the mission of the State of Washington (they are their Lean journey, albeit early stages) is:
    “By focusing our work on what Washingtonians value, we deliver the right products and services to the right place at the right time, every time.” Just think what is covered in this mission/purpose statement!

    Wouldn’t that be great!!

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