The Problem with Problem Solving

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

The formula is simple; identify an everyday life “problem” that impacts a large number of people.  Next step, create a product or service that solves the problem and deliver the solution (your product or service) to the people who have the problem.  This is entrepreneurship.  This is the formula that I was taught while starting companies in Silicon Valley, this is the formula being served up in incubators and accelerators across the globe, this is the formula used by social entrepreneurs to solve some of the world’s most pervasive problems.

You may have noticed that this formula is limited.  Yes, the summary above is dramatically simplified, however its limitations have more to do with the substance of the formula and less to do with its simplicity.

The problem with the “problem solution paradigm” is that it lives in a vacuum.  Solutions rarely target the root cause of an issue.  Instead, we live in a world of “fixes” and cover-ups which often augment the problem rather than providing a sustainable solution.  Thus what is a created is a problem-based economy that relies on the perpetuation of problems, so they can be solved by market based solutions.

Within this paradigm, we rarely take into account the entire scope of the problem, and the unlimited number of variables that give life to the problem.  We think small and create the insignificant.

Silicon Valley has been purveyors of this paradigm through the long tail of new startups  and investors.  Facebook and the mobile marketplace have created an ecosystem that supports an astonishing breadth of companies fueled by investors expecting many companies to fail but quick and ample returns from those who succeed (startup expert Steve Blank sums it this phenomenon here).

Lets admit it, small problems are easier to solve and therefore are more likely provide a financial return.  From this vantage point changing the world looks a whole lot less attractive.

If we as social entrepreneurs are committed to creating a better world above all else, it will take a paradigm shift, and a commitment to shifting paradigms.  It will require a departure from problem solving to becoming catalysts for true transformation.

It will take social entrepreneurs that have the vision and audacity to disrupt outdated systems, an unwavering commitment to people and the earth, and the ability to look beyond traditional theories of change.

It will take investors and networks like Omidyar Network with their priming the pump approach to sector driven impact investing.  Like Singularity University that asks their students to solve a problem that will positively impact a billion people.

It will take a new long tail that creates global change from the bottom up, using social enterprise and responsible business practices as its vehicle.

It is time to invest in a new formula.  A formula where positive social transformation is the output.  Think beyond the fixes and cover-ups, and to think about creating sustainable social change.

The Spark: Do Social Entrepreneurs Need a TOMs-like Story?

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Stories sell.

A good story can pull heart strings, raise money, even sell millions of canvas shoes.  Stories have become the ultimate form of currency for the social entrepreneur, even more so than impact numbers, team, or traction in some cases.  This begs a few questions for every social entrepreneur:

“What’s my story?”

“How do I tell my story?”

“Do I need a story?”

Recently I read a story on about the CEO of the Congo Leadership Initiative, a social entrepreneur named Nathaniel Houghton.  As a young white man who recently graduated from Cornell, naturally, the number one question he gets about his work is: Why Congo?

The thing is, Nathaniel doesn’t have a story.  He doesn’t exactly know why he’s serving the Congo over another community or country in need.  He has allowed passion and perspective move him towards serving the DRC.

The interesting thing about Nathaniel’s “story”, or lack there of, is that the people he’s serving doesn’t care about the story.  They don’t care about the contrast between their skin color and Nathaniel’s, they don’t care about his background, they don’t care about the politics of the country he comes from.  What they do care about is the service of the CLI, the work they do for the common good of their community, and the purity of their intent.

The purpose of a strong story is obvious.  Stories are meant to create an emotional connection with an individual so strong that they act, share, and identify with the story.  However, don’t let the lack of a story be a deterrent in you creating something special that can change the world.

The people you impact won’t care about how you got there.  They care about your impact on their present and future.

If you don’t have a story, go serve, and create your story as you go.


The Next Chapter: Massive Change with

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

The last two and a half years of my life started with one bizarre interaction.  An older gentleman walked into the office I was working at at the time and sat down across from me, a desk creating about 7 feet of distance between the two of us.  He reached into a manila folder pulled out a piece of paper.  He slid the paper across the desk, it appeared to be some type of flow chart that this man said was “the future”.  We talked about a crazy idea, putting a sales and marketing tool in the hands of the service providers of local businesses.  Giving servers, bartenders and baristas an opportunity to make more money, learn how to market themselves and most importantly, be empowered.

This conversation stuck with me for a long time after the meeting was over.  So much so, that I dedicated the next two and a half years of my life to executing this crazy idea that we call JoynIn.  The older gentleman (also the Founder) became a mentor and friend, we raised over a half a million dollars, we built a team that at one point was 10 people strong, and built a pretty freaking cool product.

A few months ago I hit wall.  I just couldn’t do the work with the same type of enthusiasm and pace as I was known for.  Something was different, and it was me.  It was my heart telling me that what I was doing was not right for me.  It was telling me that full and complete alignment with my life’s purpose was more important now than ever.  That validating my worth as an entrepreneur by building a successful startup was not important.

So a month I ago, I decided to leave JoynIn to write the next chapter.

Before “writing” it, I took time to think, feel and evaluate my values, skills, passions and vision.  A decompression process along with an intense personal audit gave me incredible clarity not just with my career, but with the values that guide my life.  I will make sure to outline the process in a future post.

A somewhat discouraging realization came when I discovered there were very few companies and organizations that really fit interest and impact profile I was looking for.  This was also illuminating, recognizing how embryonic the social change/ tech sector truly is.  Resisting my entrepreneurial tendency to build from here, I instead took the most non-scalable approach to the job search ever.  I built a short list, presented to key players at each company and started to interview.

Never going through a real job search process before I found it to be eye opening.  I found that most interviews are conversations, that you need to sell creatively from the jump, that high growth companies sometimes don’t even know how they got there, and to follow the most passionate people.

So after all this…where am I?

I am beyond excited to announce that I will be the Director of Channel Sales at, a company that is transforming how individuals and organizations spark massive social change.

What led to the decision?  Many factors, the main one simply being it was THE choice.  When I talk about complete alignment of purpose and passion, this is it.

It goes far beyond my own personal wants being met.  There is no other company that exists in this time and space that can create radical global shifts at the level Change can and potentially help shift collective human consciousness.

Sitting down with the CEO Ben Ratray for 30 minutes made that insanely clear.  That in the here and now, this is it.

A focused pivot

As I pivot in life, I naturally pivot in…blog.  Of course I will be chronicling my life experiences and repositioning those experiences so they can be of value to you.  I will also be taking a deep dive into the social change space, social business, leadership and other related fields.  This blog will be a dynamic resource for social entrepreneurs that define themselves by the social impact they create and for those who are looking to define themselves in similar ways.

Thanks for reading.  Hope you enjoy and then act!


Photo Credit: B Rosen

Connect With Us
facebook   facebook