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A CTO versus a tech taskforce – which one does New Zealand need?

Vend founder Vaughan Rowsell recently wrote about why we can't let the failed CTO appointment get in the way of New Zealand's future. In part two, he weighs up the pros and cons between naming one person to be CTO versus a team of people to be a tech taskforce. 

This is a continuation of the ideas proposed in this article.

Having spoken to a few people over the last few days who all care passionately about doing something, not nothing, when it comes to a  future driven by technology.

I admit I go to my startup roots, so my bias is towards a small team that is empowered to do something. Pick one problem to solve then swarm around that and iterate on that problem until they come up with a solution. There is a real hero fallacy that one brilliant person can do everything and provide all the answers. The most successful and impactful people I know are surrounded by a handful of smarter people. I for one am happy to be the dumbest person in the room.

What would work well is a small three to four person task force with a mix of skills and experience to complement each other and to bring the deepest experience possible. They run fast like a small startup and are action oriented.

Focus on solving one problem at a time

They don’t need to spend a year coming up with all the technology problems to solve for New Zealand, I think Frances Valentine and the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group will have a good handle on the top three problems and opportunities for New Zealand facing into the technology-driven future. Pick the number one most important problem to be solved or opportunity to be seized and the Task Force organises itself around that, perhaps even pulling in additional expertise as they need to. They then go deep and iterate and come up with solutions, perhaps even demonstrating the impact of the best solution with something tangible. Like the prototype or a simulation or a model, or something we can actually look at and proves out a potential solution. Not just a 500 page report. The key is they run fast and fail fast until they find the best solution then move on to the 2nd most important problem to be solved. They are tight and work well together.

Conflicts of interest

Having a small team also solves the problem around conflict of interest. Inevitably someone will be conflicted about something because smart people are active in many things. Conflict of interest is a real optics issue for the government and this obviously played a big part in their filtering for this role. They wanted 0 conflict of interest, which is just unreasonable, and results in a very small pool of people to pick from who are not actively doing anything in digital tech.

As the Taskforce is made up of multiple people and if someone is conflicted in any project it looks at, then they just put their hand up and acknowledge the conflict and they step out of that project, then they can rejoin the group on another cycle with another problem. The team is egoless and is resilient this way.

Share the load and move faster

Lastly, the team can cover more ground faster. Part of the solution may be engaging with industry, or the general public of New Zealand on the ground testing their views. Perhaps offshore research and networks need to be worked. Many people can split out to a few different directions then come back together much faster than one person trying to do everything sequentially.

None of this is particularly new or innovative, it’s how a tech tech startup runs, but I acknowledge it’s not how government runs. But the point is to do something different, run fast, fail fast, experiment, make this bigger than one person. We are falling behind and digital disruption is only moving faster.

Anyway, just an idea. 

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