We Don’t Make Widgets

Overcoming the Myths that Keep Government From Radically Improving

by Ken Miller

Number of pages: 124

Publisher: Governing Books

BBB Library: Politics and Public Affairs

ISBN: 978-0872894808

About the Author

Ken Miller is the founder of the Change and Innovation Agency and the author of Governing's book "We Don't Make Widgets: Overcoming the Myths that Keep Government from Radically Improving.”


Editorial Review

What we believe about government—that we don’t make widgets, that we don’t have customers, and that we’re not here to make a profit—all feed the bigger myth: that we’re different. We Don’t Make Widgets explodes the myths that prevent dramatic improvement in government operations. The aim of this book is to improve the government radically through changing the beliefs of those who run it – the managers. If you’re a manager and you are interested in a new way of thinking about what you do, who you do it for and why you do it, this book is for you.

Book Reviews

It’s short, it tells stories, gives examples, and it’s practical. This isn’t just a theoretical book – Ken has implemented change himself and consulted on numerous gov’t projects.

Ken Miller lays out the problems with process improvement in government. His book is concise, fast but a super-dense read into overcoming the thinking that prevents government from implementing lasting improvements to their processes.

Even though it was written back in 2006, it is very relevant today. There are probably more government agencies applying improvement methods like Lean since the book came out.

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Wisdom to Share

Once you get past the myth that government is different, so much good stuff is out there that you can use now, right away: All the best business methods for customer satisfaction, efficiency, and innovation can be applied because you have widgets, factories, customers, and results.

It’s not that we’re not trying, but how can we improve customer satisfaction if we don’t admit we have customers? How can we possibly give customers what they want when we can barely afford to give them what they need?

Whenever you launch your change initiative, save the banners and the mugs, and don’t call it anything. When people ask what’s going on, just reply, “We’re trying to get better every day.”

If you want great change, run great projects. Reading a book or attending a workshop may help change thinking, but projects are the way we change the work.

Are you the best? A great way to achieve the next breakthrough is to get outside the organization and see who’s better than you and why.

Don’t limit yourself to your industry. Some of the best ideas come from the strangest places.

When you first get a puppy, you have a natural desire for it to fulfill its natural desires outdoors rather than on your carpet. Deciding that you will be an enlightened manager of this puppy, you set about using all of your best positive reinforcement techniques. Then your patience slowly wanes as you spend yet another half hour on your hands and knees cleaning up another of your puppy’s accidents until you finally reach a shame spiral of disgust. Who is motivated? You or the dog? As Frederick Herzberg would say: You are motivated, the dog is moved.

Many argue that pay is a great motivator. It’s a tremendously strong extrinsic mover—once. Money is not a motivator, but unfair pay can be a lethal demotivator.

When we can’t see the widget, we focus our attention on how we do things, and we forget about who we do them for and why.

We don’t buy products; we buy results. We don’t buy cars; we buy transportation. We don’t buy drills; we buy holes. We don’t buy cologne; we buy hope. Our challenge is to ensure not only that our widgets are timely, easy to use, accurate, inexpensive, and customized but also that they achieve the results for which they were created.