Jony Ive and the Public Sector

Jony Ive granted an amazing interview with the London Evening Standard and he touched on a variety of issues.  There were a few insights though that all public agencies should consider…especially cities and public agencies.

"What I enjoy about being here (Silicon Valley) is there is a remarkable optimism, and an attitude to try out and explore ideas without the fear of failure. There is a very simple and practical sense that a couple of people have an idea and decide to form a company to do it. I like that very practical and straightforward approach.”


Many cities no longer possess optimistic attitudes and shun staff at exploring and implementing practical and straightforward out of the box solutions because there is a fear of failure.  Many elected officials often worry more about re-election during their first term that they don’t implement risky endeavors. 

Why are some regional transit agencies just now finally implementing express trains?  Why have parking minimums been the norm for such a long time?  Why is it acceptable that most public agency board meetings are held at times when most working tax payers have no way to actively participate?  If there was greater transparency and more willingness from the public sector to work around the schedules of taxpayers to increase transparency would the LA Housing fiasco have occurred?  

If the public sector is a different beast, then run it like a different beast.  Be straight forward with it.

"If something is going to be better, it is new, and if it’s new you are confronting problems and challenges you don’t have references for. To solve and address those requires a remarkable focus.”


Many public agencies are in a very unique position.  Public service in itself is a unique beast and with no text book solutions.  That’s why the application of business practices to the public sector tend to fail, because case study approaches don’t work.  There are no reference manuals to help public agencies and cities fix their problems.  Currently, most cities and agencies are facing constituents that distrust government, a drastic reduction in funds, and constant cuts in service…most public agencies have not had to whether storms like this.

If there was ever a time for cities and agencies to embrace out-of-the-box thinking to fix problems, then it’s now.  Except, that’s when Ive’s second insight about focus kicks in. 

Cities and agencies need to focus on fixing those problems/finding solutions rather than playing petty politics behind the scenes.

A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that’s what drives us - a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better. Committees just don’t work, and it’s not about price, schedule or a bizarre marketing goal to appear different - they are corporate goals with scant regard for people who use the product.”


Many times cities and public agencies don’t try hard enough to produce things that are genuinely better.  Instead there is a lot of copying.  X City tried this so we’ll try that.  Or I want to be like Y City, because everyone talks about Y City. Instead cities and their staffs should be asking how can X service, or why Y solution is genuinely better for taxpayers/constituents. 

If a transit agency is going to release a mobile app, is that app going to make riding transit genuinely better?  Is it unique to that agency?  If a new express line is going to open, does it have a real purpose? Is a street car going to make the downtown experience that much better?  These are the kind of questions every agency and city needs to ask before it releases or implements any product.

“Some of the problem solving in the iPad is really quite remarkable, there is this danger you want to communicate this to people. I think that is a fantastic irony, how oblivious people are to the acrobatics we’ve performed to solve a problem — but that’s our job, and I think people know there is tremendous care behind the finished product.”

Many cities have fallen into this finger pointing mentality.  X agency will point the finger at Y department for not doing task Z…that’s why constituents have a terrible experience when dealing with government. The taxpayers don’t care why government doesn’t work…they just want it to work. For the public there is an expectation of what government can and should provide and that those cities/agencies meet their needs.

But when you have government start to blame individuals (see Occupy Movement) for their own shortcomings and failures then that means your primary customer no longer cares for your product.  The public sector should be really worried about this.  If your primary customer (taxpayers) openly tells you that your product sucks and sees little to no care behind the product then that government should probably move aside and try something new.  Let the people that have no problem jumping through hoops fixing the hard problems run things and let the people who aren’t willing to prevent the house from burning down go.