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Understanding Public Entrepreneurship with Mitch Weiss

September 26, 2019

At our September Curated Conversation, Harvard Business School professor Mitch Weiss and Boston Globe Managing Director and HubWeek co-founder Linda Henry sat down for a discussion on government, entrepreneurship, and Boston as an effective creator of big change. As the former Chief of Staff for Mayor Menino and the creator of HBS' course on Public Entrepreneurship, Mitch is passionate about solving public problems with innovative government. Continue reading for some highlights from the insightful conversation that took place.

Solving Public Problems - A fair question today is, "Can we even solve public problems anymore?" Mitch told us yes - if we move toward the idea of possibility government. Possibility government means taking chances and trying new things that might work but also have the potential to fail. Mitch noted that 75% or more of new ventures fail, but we have to feel comfortable with the possibility of failure. This is the realm of the entrepreneur, and if we use the skills and traits of entrepreneurs in government, we can find new ways to solve problems.

The Innovation District - The site of our 2019 Fall Festival, Boston's Seaport, wasn't always a hub for art, innovation, culture, and community. During his time in Mayor Menino's office, Mitch spearheaded the creation of an "Innovation District" - despite the doubts many had about the neighborhood's ability to attract people and businesses. Mitch told the group this was a good test case in possibility government - coming up with an idea, giving people some blank space, and seeing what they could do with it. Mitch also said that with transparency and alignment between government, private companies, and entrepreneurs, we can do more and do better.

Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics - Mitch was also instrumental in creating the Office of New Urban Mechanics, a civic research and design team that explores, experiments, and evaluates new approaches to government and civic life. The idea was to harness the energy of the public and ask the people of Boston for their help. "The fundamental piece is engaging the public. We’re all urban mechanics. All of us," Mitch said.

Boston and Beyond - When trying to solve problems in Boston, simply looking at best practices from other cities isn't going to cut it. Something that worked in another major city in the world won't necessarily work for Boston, so while it helps to look out at the world to see what's being tested, Mitch suggests we shouldn't just copy those ideas. We should instead use those examples to generate new ideas. "We all have to, all together, move toward new ideas, new solutions for making this country, this commonwealth more equal. The attitude that we can't do it would be self-fulfilling," Mitch told the audience.

Possibility Citizens - Not only do we need possibility leaders in Boston to move us forward, but each of us can make a difference as possibility citizens. "You’re going to have to change the way you vote, and vote for people who are willing to experiment. Some of you might have to run for your office yourself and then lead differently," suggested Mitch. If we are engaged and active in solving problems,  we can do great things.

Interested in the full interview? You can watch it on the Boston Globe's website here

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