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The Secrets of Innovation: Government Leaders Need to Think Like Entrepreneurs

The speaker was Facebook VP Vaughan Smith. "We all know that innovation is key to success, but how do we innovate at Facebook? The first key to innovation is moving fast, very fast," he said.

by / September 28, 2014


It was Friday night in Northern California, and a large group of international VIPs and event speakers had assembled at the Santa Clara Convention Center for the Welcome Gala Dinner for the 2014 Silicon Valley Innovation & Entrepreneur Forum (SVIEF).

After some introductory comments, the speaker was Facebook VP Vaughan Smith.

We all know that innovation is key to success, but how do we innovate at Facebook? The first key to innovation is moving fast – very fast....

We expect to be first. How long do you think we allow new employees before we see code online and helping with the mission? One week is the max....

So we know that we will fail, but the key is to fail fast. We test new features with a small group, than a larger group of users before we roll it out to everyone. If there is a problem, we learn quickly and roll back fast. We have built expectations of failure into our process – which allows us to try new things and move very quickly....

Vaughan Smith went on to describe how Facebook believe that they are only 1% done. So much more is ahead for innovation. He is proud of the fact that in many parts of the world, they don’t even know what the Internet is, but people ask, “How can I get on Facebook?”

Facebook VP Vaughan Smith  

Background on SVIEF

This event is the fourth in an annual series of fall events to foster growing entrepreneur relationships with the Asia-Pacific region. The website describes SVIEF as:  

Silicon Valley Technology Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (SVIEF) is an international conference designed to foster innovation and promote business partnerships connecting US and Asia-Pacific region. It is a leading venue in high-tech industry field gathering multi-tech and business professionals, while providing a platform for talent, technology and capital exchange. The past four SVIEF were held in Silicon Valley in fall 2011, 2012 and 2013, with more than 5,000 attendees each year.  

I was invited to moderate a second-day panel at SVIEF on the topic of: Internet of Things (IoT) & Smart Homes. (In truth, we covered a bit on smart health as well.) It was really a fun, and different, opportunity for me – to be surrounded by CEOs and founders of small companies.  

I must say that I was amazed as I walked around the show floor and watched young, very smart, professionals describe their products and their business case. The zeal and energy was contagious, and the diversity in products was amazing. From drones to robots and from bras to wrist bands, the advances in new connectivity was nothing short of astounding.

The pictures are intended to provide a glimpse into the opportunities that exist as we move forward with new innovative products and services enabled by technology.

One clear message that continually was emphasized: Focus on real people, with real problems, offering new solutions and building trusted relationships.

Highlights Please?

Beyond getting to know a new group of outstanding entrepreneurs, some of the highlights included:

The speeches by Ira Ehrenpreis on Tesla and Energy Secretary Steven Chu on his elements of success while he was at AT&T Bell Labs.

You can see part of Ira’s interview on Tesla from 2013 here:

Steven Chu’s best points on innovation, in my opinion, included:

-Hire people better than you are. “A students hires other A’s but B students hire C’s.”

 -Seek technology that leads to fundamentally changing the learning curve. One example he gave was a research that led to putting the power from a 70,000 pound transformer into a suitcase that weighs 100 pounds.

-Make decisions in days, not years.

-No hierarchy in scientific discussions – new ideas are for everyone.
- He said that renewables (wind and solar) will be cheaper than fossil fuels in a decade.

-Two quotes he gave that I liked. The first was his, the second from Michelangelo.

“If you are the 100th person to look at the same problem with the same tools, you probably won’t do anything unique. You need new tools and new approaches to create innovation....”

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” -- Michelangelo

I really like one conversation that I had during a reception with Peter Shiao, the CEO of the Orb Media Group. Peter was at the event to attend the online video game track. His company is based out of Beverly Hills, Calif., and is doing very innovative things in a variety of global markets.

I asked Peter if he was worried about his intellectual property being stolen from other countries, including China. He responded, “You can’t steal Mickey Mouse.”  I think that may be my favorite quote of the weekend.


You may be wondering: Did security and privacy come up during these sessions? The answer is yes, and it was a hot topic during our Internet of Things panel.

There are many aspects to new online businesses and implementing innovative products going forward that can be applied to government, but that article is for another day. My biggest challenge was just to watch and learn from what others are doing. “Think outside the box” also has new meaning, since I keep expanding my box.

Finally, I saw this Washington Post article at the airport on my way back East, “Facebook is not charging a monthly fee”:

In further proof that the Internet rarely learns from its mistakes, an ancient and improbable rumor cropped up yet again this week: Facebook, per the irate posts of many of its users, will begin charging $2.99/month to use the site starting Nov. 1. This rumor is an old one, dating back to at least 2009, but this latest recurrence seems to have begun on the satire (“satire”) site National Report. As a friendly reminder, everything on National Report is fake. And of course, Facebook doesn’t need your money — you’re already paying it in deeply personal data. Now there’s a subject worthy of the Internet’s attention.

Like the Facebook VP said, be ready to move fast. That applies to governments as well as Silicon Valley companies.

Note: All photo credits to Dan Lohrmann.


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Dan Lohrmann Contributing Writer

Building effective virtual government requires new ideas, innovative thinking and hard work. From cybersecurity to cloud computing to mobile devices, Dan discusses what’s hot and what works.

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