In the business and engineering worlds, there is something called a "skunk works" team: an independent group of innovators inside a larger organization that spark change. It should be tight and mighty - just 7 to 15 empowered, smart voices. And it should have only one goal: to look at the fungible money in the Executive Branch and direct it where it can do the most good for 21st century workers.
You've already created a solid model in the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a first-of-its-kind effort bringing together the EPA, HUD, and the Department of Transportation to coordinate federal community planning efforts.
You can bring that same clarity to our national economic crisis - if we stop retreating to "that's how it's always been done" inside our huge, factory-style government buildings.
So, who's on your "skunk works" team? Start with representatives from Labor (Secretary Hilda Solis), Treasury (Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions Cyrus Amir-Mokri), and the Small Business Administration (Administrator Karen Gordon Mills). Each of them should bring two or three of their favorite eggheads - labor economists, MBAs, banking experts - and get to work.
When they meet, I think they'll find there are a few relatively easy ways the government can reorient itself to serve the way Americans actually work today:
· Conduct a robust and profound count of the new workforce.
The last time the federal government even counted "independent workers" was 2005. A lot has changed since then in technology and the economy. We need to know what today's workforce looks like to build tomorrow's economy.
· Set up a $100 million microloan fund to give innovative small businesses the jumpstart they need.
Micro-businesses - often created and run by independent workers - will incubate many of tomorrow's over-the-horizon innovations. But they're struggling to get early loans to help get them up and running. A microloan program that boosts these innovators - with preference given to those promoting a social good - would kick-start promising, sustainable business models.
· Create forums to listen to and learn from independent workers.
You should convene regular meetings (online and in person) of micro-entrepreneurs and independent workers to hear their successes, challenges, and frustrations. Tech giant IBM's turnaround has been traced to their 2003 online "Values Jam", which empowered its 319,000 employees to openly critique and reconstruct the corporate culture. Listen. Learn. Support their growth. Then get out of the way so they can boost the economy.
These ideas, of course, are only a start. But by heeding the lessons of America's 42 million entrepreneurs, Mr. President, you can be a pioneer and start remaking our creaky 20th century economy into one that embraces and empowers the reality of 21st century work-life.