• January 29, 2018
  • 4 minutes
  • 0

Thomas Prehn’s innovation diary

The head of Denmark's legendary MindLab lets us into his thoughts

MindLab is the world’s oldest government innovation lab and has spawned imitations all over the globe. It stands at the forefront, both in theory and practice, of efforts to make government cleverer, faster and more inventive. Here, its director Thomas Prehn shares his experiences and ideas in a regular update.

Apolitical has previously interviewed Thomas here. He can be contacted on the Apolitical network here. The views expressed here are Thomas’s own and not representative of any public body. This piece appears in our feed on government innovation.

Distributed Ambition (29.Jan.2018)

On a daily basis, I meet a lot of ambitious people. But often this ambition is driven by utilitarian, individual objectives, maybe even a selfish end-goal: a raise, maybe rising up the hierarchy, social status or public recognition. All legitimate outcomes with their very own justifications.

However, as a leader – someone who tries to motivate individuals to develop and to shift the mindset of an organisation – and as a human, I find distributed ambition much more fascinating and compelling. That’s when you commit your resources, integrity, and enthusiasm on behalf of others, be they individuals, groups or organizations. When the end-goal is never selfish nor utilitarian. And when the elements in the value-creating equation are passion, meaning and purpose.

“When you succeed, you will not be recognized”

The challenge of distributed ambition comes when you and your target do not share the same goals, purpose, thoughts of meaning and explosive enthusiasm. If your Code of Ambition is not in sync. Then the act of distribution will fail and the gap between the two different ambitions and their end-goals will become obvious, often making the non-utilitarian ambition look ridiculous for being naïve and foolish, and one will be left behind, immersed in the mud of the defeat, disillusioned.

Actually distributed ambition contains a sad dynamic: when you succeed – not just in installing it, but when it’s the base for an effective output – you will not be recognized as part of the winning team; and when you don’t succeed, you will be hung out to dry and subjected to public scrutiny in a kind of organizational pillory, with the objective being to drive the organization’s staff towards utilitarian ambitions and non-risky behaviour.

Hanging there, I wonder about the next experiment; how to install passion, meaning and purpose in the utilitarian stronghold. In the public sector. That would benefit everyone.

(Picture credit: MindLab)

Thomas Prehn

Read other instalments of this series:
Design sinking
How to scale up public policy
A backlog of curiosity
Innovation is not a room
Innovation labs measure success to justify themselves—but it can’t be done

Bring me problems, not solutions
How to build a team of innovators


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