January 23, 2023

Why didn’t they think of this years ago?


When was the last time you had to renew your driver’s license?

Odds are, you dreaded that trip to the department of motor vehicles.

With their notoriously long lines, insane wait times, bureaucratic red tape and disengaged employees, going to that cold government office every four years is always on people’s list of least favorite activities.

One poll of the top stressors of daily life interviewed three thousand people from top cities around the nation, showing that going to the dmv topped the list as a high anxiety venue, ranking right after the airport and right before the post office.

And thankfully, there is no shortage of resources helping you make your next trip more efficient. Hundreds of articles and videos say that all you have to do is schedule your appointment two months in advance, arrive the minute the office opens, avoid going at the beginning or end of the month, never go at lunch hours, and have your seventeen pieces of legal documentation ready.

Have a nice day! And god bless these united states.

Of course, during the pandemic, all of that changed.

With social distancing laws in order, more and more state government found new ways to take their operations digital. Believe or not, they actually built out the digital infrastructure to give people the ability to complete most tasks from the comfort of their own home.

This happened to me when my license expired. I had been putting off going to the dmv for months, both for the usual reasons, as well as the fear of exposure to coronavirus in a crowded and poorly ventilated government building.

Then tax time came around, and my accountant told me I had no choice but to renew. God damn it.

And so, I shuffled my workweek around to spend my entire afternoon at the dmv, ready to jump through the usual hoops and try not to go insane or get infected.

Until an actual magic trick happened. The government website told me that not only was there no need for me to show up at a physical office anymore, but they wouldn’t even allow it. Unless people are physically unable to renew their license online, drivers must now execute their transactions digitally, in order to keep exposure to a minimum.

Whew, what a relief.

Why didn’t they think of this years ago?

Turns out, all you have to do is follow a few simple steps.

First, fill out a simple form with your basic personal information, like name, date of birth, address, phone, social security and email. That takes a whopping two minutes.

Next, you pay thirty bucks with your credit card. That’s another two minutes.

Third, you download a temporary document as a placeholder license until your new ones arrives in the mail several weeks later.

And finally, if you wear corrective lenses, you call your optometrist, give them your license number, and they fax the government a copy of your eye exam to validate your vision.

That’s it. The whole experience took less than ten minutes.

No lines, no waiting, no commuting, no friction, no nothing. The department of motor vehicles, perhaps one of the most stressful places on earth, completely transformed their user experience. To the point I’m now writing about that process with gratitude and glee.

When was the last time you spoke that positively about your own experience with a government agency?

Lesson learned, crises may be dangerous, expensive and dynamic. But they’re also innovation accelerators. Crisis introduces new constraints into a given system, and that gets our collective adrenaline pumping.

And that becomes the catapult that directs individuals and organizations towards new solutions, systems and structures.

Crushing whatever long standing boundary conditions created friction in the past.

Had there not been a pandemic and subsequent shelter in place order, the department of motor vehicles may never have been forced joined the modern digital era for another ten years.

Are you looking forward to change and turbulence as an opportunity to increase your success?