Summary of Think Outside the Building

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Think Outside the Building book summary

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Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter argues that solving today’s complex social problems requires a new kind of leadership: “advanced leadership.” An advanced leader understands that established social institutions, such as big companies, nonprofits or governmental agencies, can become barriers to progress if they focus on defending their turf rather than embracing innovative reforms. Advanced leaders prioritize seeking new ideas, soliciting input from people who usually don’t have a voice in social issues, and drawing on expertise from a range of business, scientific and cultural fields

About the Author

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is the Ernest L. Arbuckle professor at the Harvard Business School and co-founder of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative. She is the author or co-author of 20 books, including Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End; Men and Women of the Corporation, and SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good.


Solving big social problems requires “advanced leadership.”

The world needs a new type of leadership to grapple with complex, chaotic problems that are impervious to traditional approaches. Conventional leadership functions within the parameters of institutions, such as big business, the academic establishment, and governmental and nongovernmental organizations. Over time, these institutions erect constraints and boundaries by generating conventional wisdom, enshrining procedures and insulating themselves in silos. The institutional mind-set is a variation on thinking inside the box: thinking “inside the building.” 

Addressing climate change, health care access, refugee crises, and racial and gender inequality requires a different mode of leadership: advanced leadership. Today’s “systems problems” often interconnect and cut across institutional sectors and national boundaries. They require leaders with an entrepreneurial attitude, a predilection for innovative thinking, a willingness to improvise and a knack for building coalitions among diverse stakeholders.


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