Town Haul Rewind: Mitch Weiss and Stephen Goldsmith (Season 4)

On the season opener of the Town Haul, host Amy Taylor hands over the reins of the show to Stephen Goldsmith, former Mayor of the City of Indianapolis, former Deputy Mayor of the city of New York, and currently the Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Goldsmith’s lengthy resume ensures he’s the right man for the job as he interviews Mitchell Weiss, Harvard Business School professor and published author, about his new book, “We the Possibility: Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems.”

On the incredible story that inspired his new book:

MITCHELL WEISS: “I wrote the book in large part out of this episode that happened after the Boston Marathon bombings. I was chief of staff to Mayor Menino at the time and the best day in Boston was ruined. But immediately this generosity starts flowing in from around the world. How can we help? A lot of it was in the form of money. Normally what cities do in the wake of these kinds of tragedies is, the big established institution in town, the local community foundation that’s probably been around for decades, collects and distributes the money.

But our knowledge was that, when that happened, the money went out in ways that were sort of too disparate to really help the people most impacted or went out too late. We decided we were going to start our own new fund. The head of the local foundation was not happy with that. He said to me, the day after the bombing “you know you’ll raise less money. You can’t start a new thing.” We did it anyway. We were up and running that night on a PayPal account and the next morning on a post office box. We eventually collected and distributed $60 million in 75 days, which made it the fastest relief effort of its kind in the history of the country.

The foundation had said that we couldn’t do what we did, and by the way, they probably would have been right, because most new things don’t succeed. And so I set out to write the book to really try to answer the question, can the government do new things? Can we solve public problems anymore?’ And in the book, I lay out this answer.”

On the conditions that would allow for possibility government:

MITCHELL WEISS: “Certainly we need public leaders who are willing to try new things who are brave enough to do it. I think if they have the skills to do it, they don’t actually need to be quite brave because we’re inviting them to take on risk on your projects, but also trying to help give them the skills to actually not take on more risk. You need leaders elected and appointed who are skilled essentially in public entrepreneurship. I think the other condition is that the public needs to be in on this game. They need to be willing to have public leaders who take risks. They need, I think, to even encourage public leaders to do that. And they’re going to need to grant their co-participation.”

On using public funds for government experimentation:

MITCHELL WEISS: “Government is actually very well suited to pursue innovation with the public dime. All throughout our history, the government has spent the public dime on innovation. When the government invented itself, it was an unlikely exercise, right? Washington calls it an experiment. But, at the same time they were having giant battles about how, and from where they should collect revenue in this country and they were spending it on inventing public agencies. So, I kind of try to obliterate the myth that we shouldn’t spend public money on public experimentation. We have, and we should.”

On the morning routine of two Harvard faculty:

MITCHELL WEISS: “Getting the kids fed and ready for school.”

STEPHEN GOLDSMITH: “Peloton and then start work.”

On the advice they’d give to their younger selves:

MITCHELL WEISS: “You don’t have to follow all the rules.”

STEPHEN GOLDSMITH: “Take even more risk.”

Listen to more episodes of the Town Haul Podcast.


Amy Koonin Taylor is Marketing Content and Media Manager at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.