Mitchell Weiss

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Champion of Public Entrepreneurship and Possibility Government for Leading Change and Innovation; Professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School; Author, “We the Possibility” (2020)

Biography

Can we solve the world’s biggest problems? Can we – private entrepreneurs, citizens, and the people we vote into office – make meaningful change happen? Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Mitchell Weiss believes we can… if. Specifically, if we move away from “probability government” toward “possibility government” and find new ways to generate solutions to public problems.

A teacher of public entrepreneurship and champion of possibility government, Weiss is helping public and private leaders navigate this shift in their organizations and communities, providing the necessary tools and techniques to incubate and then scale the solutions they create. By adopting the skills, traits and practices of entrepreneurship, he says, transformative successes are achievable. His forthcoming book, “We the Possibility” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2020), lays out a vision for more inventive government and the role all of us would need to play in ushering it in. This kind of government, he writes, would need to overcome a seismic shift in the way most in public office practice it and how most citizens expect it to be practiced; to show us the way, he draws on examples from modern entrepreneurship alongside episodes from an experimental strand in government that has long been present.

Weiss is an inspiring and sought-after speaker and teacher. In addition to his work with startups and other businesses, he has presented at 10 Downing Street, the World Bank and Code for America. He has received awards for his innovative teaching and community leadership at HBS. A senior advisor to the Bloomberg-Harvard City Leadership Initiative, Weiss also is the course head for The Entrepreneurial Manager Course at HBS, reaching all 900+ MBA students. He created and teaches the school’s popular and demanding course on public entrepreneurship, which focuses on the public leaders and private entrepreneurs inventing a difference in the world; he’s taught portions of the course to world leaders at all levels of government and in the private sector. Weiss’ research has covered the hoverboard that crossed the English Channel, the world’s first city built “from the internet up,” the testing of autonomous vehicles, and the rise and fall and follow-up of dock-less bike-sharing. His work has been referenced in The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Politico and other media outlets.

Before joining HBS, Weiss was himself one of these possibility leaders, serving as chief of staff and partner to Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino. He was a co-founder of New Urban Mechanics and helped make Boston’s innovation work a global model for peer-produced government and change. He also championed Boston’s innovation district as a regional platform for entrepreneurship and growth. Weiss 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.

Mitchell Weiss is Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School and the Richard L. Menschel Faculty Fellow. He holds an MBA from HBS where he was a George Baker Scholar, and an A.B. with honors in economics from Harvard University.

Mitchell Weiss is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, conference talks and advisory/consulting services through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Videos

Books & Research

We The Possibility

(Harvard Business Review Press, 2020)

A-Z Name

Weiss, Mitchell

Biography

Can we solve the world’s biggest problems? Can we – private entrepreneurs, citizens, and the people we vote into office – make meaningful change happen? Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Mitchell Weiss believes we can… if. Specifically, if we move away from “probability government” toward “possibility government” and find new ways to generate solutions to public problems.

A teacher of public entrepreneurship and champion of possibility government, Weiss is helping public and private leaders navigate this shift in their organizations and communities, providing the necessary tools and techniques to incubate and then scale the solutions they create. By adopting the skills, traits and practices of entrepreneurship, he says, transformative successes are achievable. His forthcoming book, “We the Possibility” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2020), lays out a vision for more inventive government and the role all of us would need to play in ushering it in. This kind of government, he writes, would need to overcome a seismic shift in the way most in public office practice it and how most citizens expect it to be practiced; to show us the way, he draws on examples from modern entrepreneurship alongside episodes from an experimental strand in government that has long been present.

Weiss is an inspiring and sought-after speaker and teacher. In addition to his work with startups and other businesses, he has presented at 10 Downing Street, the World Bank and Code for America. He has received awards for his innovative teaching and community leadership at HBS. A senior advisor to the Bloomberg-Harvard City Leadership Initiative, Weiss also is the course head for The Entrepreneurial Manager Course at HBS, reaching all 900+ MBA students. He created and teaches the school’s popular and demanding course on public entrepreneurship, which focuses on the public leaders and private entrepreneurs inventing a difference in the world; he’s taught portions of the course to world leaders at all levels of government and in the private sector. Weiss’ research has covered the hoverboard that crossed the English Channel, the world’s first city built “from the internet up,” the testing of autonomous vehicles, and the rise and fall and follow-up of dock-less bike-sharing. His work has been referenced in The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Politico and other media outlets.

Before joining HBS, Weiss was himself one of these possibility leaders, serving as chief of staff and partner to Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino. He was a co-founder of New Urban Mechanics and helped make Boston’s innovation work a global model for peer-produced government and change. He also championed Boston’s innovation district as a regional platform for entrepreneurship and growth. Weiss 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.

Mitchell Weiss is Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School and the Richard L. Menschel Faculty Fellow. He holds an MBA from HBS where he was a George Baker Scholar, and an A.B. with honors in economics from Harvard University.

Mitchell Weiss is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, conference talks and advisory/consulting services through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

Inspiring a New Era of Leadership: Possibility

The status quo for leading organizations isn’t working. Relying on old ways of doing things too often leads to mediocre, middling outcomes. Mitchell Weiss is championing a shift toward possibility instead, an inventive, alternative approach to leading change and innovation that borrows from the traits, skills and practices of entrepreneurs. Drawing from his forthcoming book, “We The Possibility,” Weiss shares captivating and inspiring stories from possibility leaders around the globe. While he focuses primarily on those inside governments, the efforts offer lessons for leaders in institutions of all types, from large companies to long-established NGOs, all of which struggle to reorient often risk-averse workers and other stakeholders toward trying new approaches. Borrowing from modern startup practices, but also showcasing instances of government invention, Weiss offers hope – and tangible tools and techniques – for generating new ideas, for experimenting, and for scaling them, even in the hardest of places.

New Urban Mechanics: Embracing Technology to Solve Big City Problems

Weiss’s first tour in government came as GPS and GIS were making their way into cities, and his second go-round happened as smartphones ushered in a transformation in city-service delivery. Now, amid the rush toward sensors and autonomy and other contemporary advances, the question is how (if) cities should absorb these technologies. Weiss offers some warnings, hope and answers. He believes, as the former mayor of Boston did, that fundamental to leading city change in this new era is embracing the notion “we are all urban mechanics,” and suggests working toward these new technologies in ways that engage the public and the crowd. He draws on some of the latest government blockchain experiments, AI pilots, novel data-sharing agreements and sensor-driven community partnerships to sketch a way forward.

Selling to the World’s Largest – and Toughest – Customers: Governments

They work in the world’s largest markets, yet some startups shy away from them, investors steer founders clear of them, and companies with relevant products and services in adjacent spaces don’t even think of them. Who are these customers spending billions a year who we don’t want to access or can’t? They’re governments, at all levels and all around the world. Somebody is selling to them. Why not you?  Weiss identifies some of the challenges for selling to governments such as “They don’t trust you and they don’t trust themselves,” and shares advice for surmounting such obstacles. He also provides guidance on selecting the right government customers, understanding their buying processes and defining the right value proposition. An executive selling smart, connected devices to cities once said, “Our competition is the status quo.” Weiss offers insights for getting past that formidable foe.

Regulating the Future by Navigating Uncertainty

A local official commenting on e-scooter regulation told a reporter, “Three months ago, the city thought the next big thing would be dock-less bicycles.” Indeed. In an age when regulatory uncertainty about car sharing gave way to similar questions about bike sharing, scooter sharing and then delivery drones and flying taxis, it can feel impossible to keep up. How should governments regulate “new” markets and how should companies enter them? Mitchell Weiss provides a framework for experimenting with new technologies in so-called regulatory “gray zones.” And when these new technologies leverage “platform approaches” as they often do, he shares actionable tips for architecting those platforms and for fixing them when they are broken.

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Recommendations

“You were fantastic – your keynote was a great mix of mission, story-telling, and takeaways which is hard to pull off…You had the highest ranking of any speaker or session in the 2 days.”

– Steve Ressler, Former President of GovLoop

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