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We the Possibility: Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems

03/31 Wednesday | 5pm

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In many corners, we’ve come to accept the notion that government can’t do new things or solve tough challenges, that it’s too big and slow and bureaucratic. It doesn’t have to be that way, says former public official, now Harvard Business School professor, Mitchell Weiss. The truth is that entrepreneurial spirit and savvy in government can be harnessed to transform the response to big problems at all levels. 

The key, Weiss argues, is a shift from a mindset of “Probability Government” – overly focused on safe solutions and mimicking “best” practices – to “Possibility Government.” This means public leadership and management that’s willing to boldly imagine new possibilities and to experiment. It will also take, he says, public leaders and all the rest of us moving towards possibility together.

Weiss shares the three basic tenets of this new way of governing:

  • Government that can imagine: Seeing problems as opportunities and involving citizens in designing solutions
  • Government that can try new things: Testing and experimentation as a regular part of solving public problems
  • Government that can scale: Harnessing platform techniques for innovation and growth

The lessons unfold in the timely episodes Weiss has seen and studied: the US Special Operations Command prototyping of a hoverboard for chasing pirates; a heroin hackathon in opioid-ravaged Cincinnati; a series of experiments in Singapore to rein in Covid-19; among many others.

At a crucial moment in the evolution of government’s role in our society, We the Possibility provides inspiration and a positive model, along with crucial guardrails, to help shape progress for generations to come.

Mitch Weiss is a Professor of Management Practice in the Entrepreneurial Management unit and the Richard L. Menschel Faculty Fellow at the Harvard Business School. He created and teaches the school’s course on Public Entrepreneurship—on public leaders and private entrepreneurs who invent a difference in the world. He also teaches The Entrepreneurial Manager in the first year of the MBA Program. He was a 2015 recipient of the Apgar Award for Innovation in Teaching and a Greenhill Award recipient for 2015-2016. He helped build the Young American Leaders Program at Harvard Business School and is a senior advisor to the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. He is the author of the new book, We the Possibility: Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems from Harvard Business Review Press (2021).  

Prior to joining HBS in 2014, Mitch was Chief of Staff and a partner to Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino. Mitch helped shape New Urban Mechanics, Boston’s municipal innovation strategy, and make it a model for peer-produced government and change.Mitch contributed to Boston’s educational reform agenda. He led speechwriting for the Mayor’s Inaugural and State of the City addresses. In April 2013, he guided the Mayor’s Office response to the Marathon Bombings and played a key role in starting One Fund Boston.

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