Frame the Problem

What is your vision? Who is involved? When do we get there? How will we know we arrived?

No one will pay you to solve a non-problem. -Vinod Khosla

Fall in love with your problem, not a solution. -Ash Maurya

Your RFP presents these two facts:

6 million jobs go unfilled because according to leadership they can’t figure out who, where, and how to find the skilled labor required for the jobs

6 million unemployed Americans

These two data points seem to be used as the foundation for why you request early stage startups to submit concepts for credentialing and wraparound programs etc.

This jump to solutions is similar to how the foundations, nonprofits, and public policy orgs have done for the better part of this last decade. I watched hundreds of millions of dollars poured into that correlation masquerading as a an untapped opportunity from orgs like Aspen Institute, MacArthur, LRNG, etc.

I applied to those organizations because I wanted to show them, “Here, look. I did it this way. I fixed the problem for myself like this. Perhaps you can enable me to share this process with the rest of the individuals who may be struggling as I was not so long ago.

I never heard from any of them.

Your RFP clearly asks for a specific type of solution to the same framing that has been exhausted on all fronts. Perhaps challenging the way you frame this initiative is the first reason I would be a person who “wins” in this initiative. In reality, I consider this a win if we all figure out a way to work together – nobody should be sent home when the stakes are this high.

Designing a system – a society – that has the capacity to evolve itself in certain directions because of the nudge-driven strategies we plant throughout the nation is a process that requires some type of shared understanding of what we’re doing.

Where are we going? What is your vision? Who are all the parties involved? When do we all get together to start discussing the plan?

I am the founder of NJ’s first-ever social innovation conference, Cooperative Impact, which is the strategic tool I used to organize the cross-sector stakeholders of a city to come together, around one table, attend weekly meetings, and work on shared problems from a unified front. Once this network was established, I connected the postsecondary / professional development pipeline into the network of mentors. I called that organization, Action Horizon Institute, and it’s where we grew the next generation of social entrepreneurs by cherry picking existing disconnected youth who were self-motivated enough to not just “fill an occupation that will evaporate perhaps even by tomorrow”, but, instead, I empowered human beings with the ability to self-direct their lives, design their own futures, and carve out a place for themselves in the new economy.

Your RFP makes a clear call for solutions around credentialing and pathways related to college etc.

I am curious, why does credentialing have anything to do with your vision? How do you know, with complete certainty that we should continue investing resources into building abstract constructions that we call “bridges” for a population that isn’t even involved in the decision process?

I recommend getting back to basics.

Think more inclusive.

Think burner cell phone, not smart iPhone.

Less tech.

More in-person grassroots boots on the ground creation of social capital. If one of the disconnected Americans decides they want to build a badging system or figure out a credentialing method to help them feel more like an equal to their wealthy counterparts, then so be it. However, I strongly urge you to consider completely scrapping the thought of the old economy because who is to say we should be encouraging 6 million Americans to work their butt’s off just because some outdated CEO thinks she or he can’t find the skills needed to make her company grow?

That symptom doesn’t tell me they need a unique type of skill that is somehow onobtainable in this country. That symptom tells me an entirely different story about the leadership of that company. That tells me the company will likely become irrelevant as we move forward into the evolving future.

Perhaps focusing on actively creating our future would amplify the impact and return on this investment by empowering those who we view as ‘the problem’ to have an opportunity to transform into the solution.

Perhaps we should not encourage 6 million Americans to sit back and wait their turn – wait for there to be enough opportunities for them – tell them they must learn things they aren’t passionate about – all the while, the rest of us are living during one of the most socially mobile times.

From the data proposed, it seems like corporations say, “We do not have the skills needed to compete. We would be so much better if we just had the right talent…but, wait, I’m not sure what we need, but I definitely know we don’t have it.”

These leaders are simply saying they would rather pass the buck than figure out how to carve out a place for themselves in the new economy.

My question for the 5 million leaders who responded to that survey, “Why wait for the future to be created by someone else? Your team must be equipped with growth mindsets, but how do you expect them to feel comfortable using their imaginations when their leader is a prime example of keeping his or her own mindset?”

This is a prime opportunity for me to work with the leadership to coach them through the digital transformation process. Once the company gets their ducks in a row, the culture is properly designed and emoting through the frontlines of the company, then we should revisit this conversation about credentialing and whatever else. Until then, we should develop the disconnected Americans into the next frontier of this great nation who lays the foundation of our new economy by building their local economies back up from scratch. The 6 million disconnected Americans of which I am once a proud member of will soon become the backbone of this country. It is our turn. Better make room.

Before rushing into solutions of “credentialing” or “college tools” etc I bring the ability to frame our design challenge in a new way.

The startup I am currently raising a seed for brings all of this experience, and all the other notables that didn’t make it into this 1,000 word brief explanation, into a scaleable tech platform that isn’t for disconnected Americans, necessarily. It’s disrupting the agency model, institutional asset managers, and most professional service providers who haven’t transitioned to a productized e-commerce type of offering for their customers (as lawyers, doctors, and many others already have done).

I want to level the playing field. That is why we must be selective in who we first introduce to the platform. They will become the leaders of tomorrow.

Type your comment below

“Daniel is a unique visionary. Empathetic, sensititve, and resourceful. He leads through facilitation. His programs are always focused around getting the right people to particiapte. I look forward to seeing how his initiatives work for the good of society.” -Vijay Chakravarthy, Industrial Designer Society of America

"I raised $3 million from Eduardo Saverin (Co-Founder of Facebook) & Tim Draper (VC and Founder of Draper University). I owe a lot to Dan for simplifying complex ideas and being the initial spark of inspiration that motivated me to go for it all." -Josh Rosenheck

Get my next post sent to your inbox

I've partnered and worked alongside of global leaders in design, innovation, entrepreneurship, and education.

Techstars logo IDEO logo WeWork logo General Assembly logo Rutgers logo