Why Joy’s Law applies to open innovation


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Open innovation in government can best be explained by Joy’s Law: No matter who you are, most of the smartest people in the world work for someone else.

Quoting a management principle attributed to Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park summed up the challenge of open innovation in government: Even if you get the best and the brightest to work for you, there will always be an infinite number of other, smarter people employed by others.

“When you think about it, it’s always a 100 percent true,” Park told the audience at a May 2 event hosted by TechAmerica.

However, in case “you somehow can get all the other smart people to care about what you care about, working on what you’re working on, you’ll get a lot more done than only working with your own smart people,” he continued.

As example, Park mentioned Facebook, which has “like a million developers,” but in actuality employs “a few thousand.” The social-media giant has managed to leverage the power of many smart minds to continue building on its open platform, he added.

“I will never work for another organization that has more smart people working for them than the United States federal government – think about DARPA [and] NIH,” he said. “But I promise you, even the American government is outnumbered by the planet Earth.”

The core principles of openness can be found in the incubator Park runs within the government. The first initiative there has focused on open data, with the goal to “liberate data from the vaults of government” and ensure data is in machine-readable form.

Freeing weather data and GPS information has fueled a wide range of innovations and led to job creation. But those two “are just the tip of the iceberg,” Park said.

To illustrate the vast amounts of federal data, Park mentioned a scene in the 1980s movie, “The Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Toward the end of the movie, Indiana Jones walks into a giant government warehouse and sees countless brown boxes.

“That’s actually a really good visual metaphor for the treasures in the American government,” Park said. “And guess what? It’s not our data – it’s your data. You paid for this, and you should be able to get it back.”

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data analytics, open data, Tech, Todd Park
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