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If Legislation Is Really Innovation, Then Congress Has To Resdesign Its Innovation Process

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on January 26, 2010

If my years in grad school at the University of Michigan in political science and anthropology taught me anything, it was that the passage of legislation is a collaborative social process, much like the process of innovation. New bills can be innovative “products” that have huge socio-economic impacts on people’s lives. Even the rituals of the legislative process have their parallels in the rituals of the innovative process.

Which is why so many independent voters are furious at Washington for its failure to pass needed legislation in health care, jobs, and finance. They are angry at the breakdown in the process of innovation and well they should be. “People in my state were, Massachusetts and elsewhere were appalled at the process by which the by which the bill (health care) was negotiated behind closed doors, ” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican Senator from Maine. “It had special deals inserted to win votes …”

Most people these days work in corporations or small businesses where they innovate all the time. They participate in an innovative process and a series of rituals that produce needed outcomes on a regular basis. Most people collaborate in meetings, where they express their views, listen to others express their views, weigh the pros and cons of different argument, and compromise in choosing the best option. They then agree to move forward on trying the new initiative out, again working together. If their own individual view is not chosen by the group, if their particular option is not chosen, they still proceed with the majority (or the leader). People at work believe that their colleagues are smart, have something new to offer and are often correct. There is a culture of collective respect and action towards the greater good. This culture lends itself toward innovating and sometimes rather quickly and efficiently.

The culture of Congress doesn’t do this today. There is no respect of others, no collabortion, no compromise for the greater good and no execution. Nothing is happens as the US sinks deeper into the global competitive hole, people are without jobs for the longest period since the Great Depression, and costs continue to rise in health care. The collective process of legislation is broken and the US is ungovernable.

To begin to change this situation, Congress has to change its collective rituals. The filibuster is clearly the place to begin. Most

Americans live in an environment where the majority holds sway, even if they disagree. Congress, and the Senate in particular, do not. Congress has subverted majority rule in Washington by using the 60-vote filibuster rule for legislation. A super-majority of 60 votes in the Senate is now required to pass bills on anything important. The makes innovation, the passage of new legislation, virtually impossible. In effect, the 60-vote filibuster blocks the innovation funnel of legislation in Congress and prevents the creation of new products and services made in Washington.

This 60-vote ritual is relatively new. It is not in the Constitution. It's not written anywhere. And it used to be a rare event, used by both Democrats and Republicans. This needs to be changed or eliminated because it subverts the most important ritual in the political process--majority rule.

Washington actually needs to do much more to reset its innovation funnel. It has to restore all the values and behaviors of innovation--collaboration, choice, compromise and collective action are all key to the process of innovation that need to be returned to the legislation process.

The reason for the populist anger at Washington is that most people work in cultures of respect, compromise and collective action that get things done. Congress lives in another culture that polarizes points of view and prevents the legislative process from producing bills. Congress would be wise to adapt its political culture and rituals to those of the people it represents.



Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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