Political Innovation: Developing an Innovative Political Organization

When you think of the term innovation, you probably do not associate it with politics. This is due at least in part to the historical reluctance of politicians and campaign managers to take uncertain risks that could have a negative impact on the outcome of an election or term.

Instead, it is companies in the private sector such as Apple and Google that are disrupting their industries with new, innovative products and services. And, even older, more established companies such as Porsche and Walmart are redefining their industries with updated product lines and innovative business models.

These private sector companies have successfully developed cultures that are always learning and striving for perfection. Apple has Jony Ive, who is always pushing the envelope of what is possible, and Google has Google X, its secret lab focused on solving big problems.

So where is the Jony Ive and Google X of politics?

I believe that if political organizations adopted the mindset of these above-mentioned private sector companies and moved away from the tried and true strategies of non-geotargeted direct mailers and blanketed TV ads, their candidate would win more elections. While America has already seen the power of these more targeted strategies in President Obama’s campaign wins, as explored in the June, 2013 New York Times Magazine article “Data You Can Believe In,” conventional strategies for the most part remain uncontested, and true innovation has yet to hatch.

Innovation in Politics: Rewrite the Playbook and Change the Organizational Model

Being an innovator in politics would mean rewriting the playbook and building a political organization that is always learning and experimenting with new technologies and strategies. This organizational model should be the model which all future political organizations use to develop political campaign strategies.

Political candidates, campaign managers, and political consultants should consider the following when developing an innovative political organization:

1. Recruit problem-solving individuals who have multidisciplinary backgrounds and who have the ability and bandwidth to focus on the bigger picture: changing the way politicians approach politics.

2. Take more calculated risks. While some of these risks will fail, others will succeed. When Porsche preemptively decided to get ahead of the SUV trend by introducing the Cayenne in 2002, they were taking a huge risk. But the Cayenne now accounts for more than half the company’s global sales.

3. Consumers demand customer service from private sector companies, and they expect immediate responses to their inquiries. The same will be true of voters. As more homes come online, politicians will be able to host virtual, two-way interactive town halls in voters’ homes and gather real-time feedback on their policies. While this might not become a reality for the 2016 presidential election, it is a very real possibility for the 2020 presidential election, especially if the much-rumored Apple TV is realized.

4. Politics need innovation labs focused on changing the way politicians win elections. A lab should be run as a fully independent arm of a political organization—away from campaign headquarters, to avoid the echo-chamber effect. Political operatives would be able to focus on the long-term picture of winning multiple elections, not just one. In the retail industry, companies such as Nordstrom, Walmart, Target, and Kohl’s have each established innovation labs to figure out the future of retailing. As a result, for example, Walmart has had great success in developing mobile apps that allow their customers to shop when, where, and how they want to.

5. Politicians need to stay in front of their message. On-demand political news channels would allow the politician unprecedented access to voter’s living rooms. Platforms such as xBox Live, which currently has 48 million members, and Google’s Chromecast would be great places to start.

The traditional ways of connecting and interacting with voters will dramatically change over the next 10 years. Will political organizations willingly adapt to trends in the private sector or will they continue not to innovate because that is the status quo?

Political Innovation: Developing an Innovative Political Organization is an article written by Brulte & Company Co-Founder Grayson Brulte that was originally published on The MIT Sloan Executive Education [email protected]™ Blog.