The Solution Revolution: A book review by Bob Morris

Solution RevolutionThe Solution Revolution: How Business, Government, and Social Enterprises Are Teaming Up to Solve Society’s Toughest Problems
William D. Eggers and Paul Macmillan
Harvard Business Review Press (2013)

Here’s how to tap “trillions of dollars in potential value at the intersection of public, private and nonprofit sectors”

As I indicate in my review of another book, Gary Klein’s Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, I realized long ago that the true value of most (if not all) breakthrough insights is best determined by the nature and extent of the disruptive impact they have on the given status quo. That has certainly proven true of analytics, cloud computing, mobile phones, and social media. As William Eggers and Paul Macmillan observe, “The defining feature of Western-style government — its success in catering to a wide variety of citizen needs — has become its greatest liability. Governments are going broke while contorting themselves into ever-stranger positions to satisfy often contradictory constituent demands.” In the United States, that is true of many municipalities, counties, and even states in which legitimate citizen needs far exceed the resources available to meet therm. “Fortunately, government is no longer the only game in town when it comes to societal problem solving. Society is witnessing a step change in how it deals with its own problems — a shift from a government-dominated model to one in which the government is just one player among many.”

I agree with Eggers and Macmillan that a new economy — what they characterize as “the solution economy” — is emerging and it trades in social outcomes. Its currencies include public data, reputation, credibility, and social impact. “The business models are unusual, and the motivations range from new notions of public accountability to moral obligation to even shareholder value.” This is indeed a “new game” and the information, insights, and counsel that Eggers and Macmillan provide in abundance will help their reader to understand the new “rules” as well as terms and conditions that may determine initiatives’ success or failure.

In their opinion, trillions of dollars in value potentially lies largely untapped at the new intersections of the public, private, and non-profit sectors. They explain in this timely book “how to unlock this value.” These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me:

o The Economy in Eliminating Problems (Pages 3-6)
o Table 1-1: Sample Initiatives of multirational multinationals (31)
o The Innovators: Private Enterprise, Public Benefit (35-42)
o The Wavemakers: In a Nutshell (49)
o Creating the ability to mobilize massive resources (51-56)
o Platforms (90-93)
o Business Models That Scale: In a Nutshell (105-106)
o New Models of Exchange (141-144)
o Crowdfunding (147-151)
o Pay for Success (159-163 & 166)
o Revolutionizing Education: An Innovation Ecosystem (177-181)
o Complementary Capabilities and Effective Ecosystem (192-197)
o Strategies to Grow the Solution Economy: For Government, Business, and Investors (229-237)

Essentially, “Wavemakers” from all three societal sectors solve problems with disruptive technologies, using business models that scale, funded and sustained by impact currencies during public value exchanges, within solution ecosystems. There must be a revolution rather than a process of incremental collaboration that, until now, has exacerbated rather than resolved problems clearly beyond the capabilities and resources of any one sector.

Long ago, Albert Einstein observed that “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” and, that it is “insanity” to keep thinking and doing what we have done thus far and then expect different results.

Obviously William Eggers and Paul Macmillan agree but when concluding this book, they are confident that technologies and business models will prove sufficient to the challenges we now face. “New problems will emerge. Luckily, the fundamental strength of the solution economy is that challenges become opportunities for progress.” I hope they are right.

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