A few minutes with Michael Jones

Michael Jones is chief technology officer for Google Earth, Google Maps and Google Local Search. He is the former CTO of Keyhole, which developed the technology that makes Google’s mapping systems work. The search giant bought Keyhole in 2004.

Jones will be one of the keynote speakers at the American Council for Technology’s Management of Change conference in Richmond, Va., this week.

FCW: Google is known for having a culture of innovation. What advice can you offer government agencies?

Jones: Google is not alone in having innovative employees. There are a lot of companies out here in Silicon Valley that have had a lot of innovation in the past 40 years.

Innovation is not done by a special kind of people. There is no innovation gene — everybody is innovative and creative. What is the case [in government] is that everybody is not brave enough, or maybe they’re too wise and realize that if they make a mistake, they’re doomed.

One of the crippling philosophies that I’ve seen in government is that if you’re in a managerial or leadership position, you only get one mistake per career. But if no one embraces failure, there would be no one who could ride a bicycle, for example. If you were allowed only one chance, you would try real hard, you would fall down, you would cry, and they would take the bicycle away. And there would be nobody riding bicycles. 

FCW: Is there some kind of indicator that tells you whether you are innovative or not?

Jones: I think everybody needs to seek the creativity that’s within themselves. They won’t be satisfied if they don’t. One of the things that government will find — as well as some companies — is that you don’t have to try to find creative people. In many ways, you already have them, but they leave. If you see the people that you wish you were attracting leaving, then that would be a clue for you that there’s something wrong internally.

One of the things that is difficult for government — and I think it’s unique to government — is that there are cultures in which you just have to make a decision based on the information you have. For example, in wartime, generals make decisions today, not tomorrow. Maybe they have flawed information, or maybe they make a bad decision, and people die. It’s a tough job. But [they] have to be able to make tough decisions because if they make no decision, then everybody may die.

I think we hold government employees to a standard that…is a very high standard.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.

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