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Speeches & Remarks

Remarks of OPM Director John Berry

Presidential Innovation Fellows Kick-off

White House - South Court Auditorium

August 23, 2012

Every innovation starts with an idea somewhere - a lightbulb over somebody's head, provoked by discussion, or observation, or inspiration. And innovation is only worthwhile because it benefits somebody - because it makes people's lives better, or easier, or longer. We can't forget that from end to end, there has to be a human element in innovation.

We've focused on human centered design in our approach at OPM, in our Innovation Lab, and in collaborative initiatives like this one. So that's why I want to focus on the human collaboration that produces innovation, and the reasoning behind the Presidential Innovation Fellows.

Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and one of the great computing geniuses of the last century pointed out what's now known as Joy's law: "No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else."

While we have great teams in government already, there are a lot of really smart, talented folks in the private sector, in academia, and in the non-profit world. What if we were to team some of the best innovators outside of government with some of the best innovators inside government? What might we be able to accomplish? That's where you come in.

We laid out five challenges, and we said, okay, who wants to tackle these? As you've heard, the response was amazing. For 18 Fellowship spots, we saw nearly 700 applicants, representing tremendously diverse backgrounds and incredible talent - applicants willing to drop everything, move to DC on very short notice, and serve their country. From that pool of talent, we were able to assemble the truly impressive teams that you see here today.

You'll see what I mean in a moment - from nuclear engineering to startup businesses and best-selling books, these fellows are just brimming with talent and accomplishment and courage.

But before we introduce our new teams, let me reach back about 200 years to a British Admiral, Horatio Nelson, now famous for his brilliant naval victories. Nelson won battle after battle - often when outnumbered - because unlike many admirals before or since, he didn't depend on direct command over every ship, and he didn't stick to the textbook tactics that everyone had used for years and years.

Instead, Nelson discussed strategy with his captains well in advance, and talked with them about the broad goals he expected them to achieve in upcoming battles. His approach meant that when his fleet engaged another, his captains knew how to work together and react quickly, and how to work toward overall goals without waiting for specific orders. It meant more brains and more creativity were unleashed on Nelson's side than on his adversaries'.

We're asking you much the same thing. We've set out these five broad goals, and we're counting on your smarts and your creativity in figuring out ways to reach these goals better and more efficiently - ways new to government, using ideas that I'm not sure I can even imagine.

We are counting on you to think boldly, to fail early, to learn quickly, and above all to dare great things.

Now it's time to hear about each of these great projects and meet the teams that will be powering them. To kick things off, would you please welcome to the stage Peter Levin, the Chief Technology Officer of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Farzad Mostashari the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the Department of Health and Human Services.

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