When I was a kid, I loved the start of school – fresh pencils, a new teacher and lots of new material to learn. Not surprisingly, I was the kid with her hand up any time a teacher asked a question and needed an answer. I was lucky that Connie Kramer – my gifted and talented teacher – taught me about Bloom’s Taxonomy and the value in asking the right questions before jumping to a conclusion. Since then, I have always been more intrigued by digging deep into the why behind things rather than immediately jumping to a conclusion. I now teach this concept on the first day of my college class in Social Entrepreneurship. It is the right way to start our semester together, because as social entrepreneurs we have to “fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” I also used this quip in my favorite Social TrendSpotter post from this summer, “Pearls of Wisdom: Advice to Rising Social Entrepreneurs,” which included advice collected from social pioneers. A very smart young lady dug deep and asked me the why behind this statement. I wanted to share my response.

Q: I don’t understand this: “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” My problem is high unemployment in my area. I want to create jobs and the solution is job development. Please explain.

A: I am so glad you asked this question – it is THE fundamental “way of thinking” that differentiates social entrepreneurs from the traditional charitable approach. (BTW – we have a step-by-step, uniquely social entrepreneurship process called “Social Alchemy” that we covered in a past SEE Change article.)

First, social entrepreneurs focus on the problem they are solving, not the solution. So, in your case, why does your community have high unemployment? Is it related to education, a skill gap or barriers to employment? You could create jobs – as a solution – but not solve the problem – high unemployment. So, the first step in social alchemy is to understand the problem through research, conversations with those impacted and mapping of existing resources.

Second, social entrepreneurs believe that the best solutions are bottom up – they bring those we serve into the solution. In your case, you have two customers – employers AND employees. What jobs do the people in your area want? What would get them to a livable wage? What are the high vacancy jobs that employers cannot fill? Where is the best nexus between job demand and job supply?

If you follow this logic, you aren’t just creating jobs, you are creating a vibrant future for your community – a strong pipeline of employment. Renewed economic development. Living wage careers with benefits, not just jobs. Wrap-around services that support employment through effective distribution of transportation and childcare. You get the idea – this is precisely how we as social entrepreneurs think and solve problems instead of “falling in love a solution.”

As we approach our work with a renewed sense of purpose this fall, I hope you reflect on this strategy and ask more questions before you dive into solutions. It is only through digging deep that we get to the root of our problems and discover the often unlikely solutions and collaborations that are true gamechangers. I’d love your thoughts about this approach and how you use it in your organization.

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