Editorial: Thriving in chaos

It’s trite to say it, but these times do seem to be the best of times and the worst of times, depending on how one looks at the challenges ahead.

In this issue of Federal Computer Week, we have looked at what we are calling the age of disruption and chaos. The idea came about as we reviewed FCW’s 20-year history this anniversary year. We kept noticing how the pace of change seemed to accelerate each year.

Leadership is challenging in the best of times. But leadership and management in a time of disruption, chaos and change are particularly challenging. For federal executives facing numerous and complex problems, it can seem like the worst of times.

Yet as we were planning this issue, we talked to people about disruption. Their first responses were usually to say that disruption has only negative connotations. But we see it differently. We believe that this period of change is a time of new opportunities for federal executives and their agencies.

Another often-repeated observation is that the challenges agencies face are not technical but instead are ones rooted in culture, policies, management and leadership. That observation has often been true, but it seems particularly relevant now. Agencies have always been able to find new ways to use information technology more efficiently. Technology improves year after year and today provides a technical basis for interconnectedness that was difficult even a few years ago.

The traditional government model has been based on the idea that information is power and, if you keep information to yourself, you can be powerful. Today, that model seems outdated. We are discovering a new model that is based on the idea that as individuals, we can be smarter — and more powerful — by sharing information. And increasingly, technological tools allow organizations to take advantage of that intelligence network.

Want proof? Just talk to college kids today — the generation of young people who are born digital. They naturally share information, and often they do it so freely that it sometimes makes the rest of us uncomfortable. But the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech earlier this year illustrated how young people use information and tap into networks. Students didn’t wait for the authorities to tell them about the shootings, and they didn’t wait for reports from the traditional news media. They used Web sites to inform one another.

It was a powerful response but also disruptive to the traditional way of doing business.

Federal executives face management challenges in the years ahead, but we believe those will be opportunities.

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