How to Transform the World for The Better

Brandon Stover
Founder of Plato University
June 10, 2024
min read

Ladies & gents, my name is Brandon Stover, and I’m the founder of Plato University. Welcome to Theory into Action.

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 Today you're going to get a masterclass in solving problems,  from the close and personal  to the large and global, using Solutionary thinking.  Plus you'll learn how you can teach this to your students  so they can start solving problems even within their own communities.

Our guest is Zoe Weil, co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education and pioneer in the comprehensive humane education movement.

What is a solutionary?

A solutionary is somebody who can identify unsustainable, unjust, and inhumane systems, and then solve them in ways that do the most good and the least harm for everyone.

And by everyone, I mean all people, species, and the environment. So embedded in what it means to be a solutionary is this ethical foundation of doing the most good and the least harm. So solutionary is not synonymous with problem solver. Somebody hearing this word could say that's a made up word. Why do we need a new word for something that's essentially a problem solver?  Well, engineers can solve the problem of damming a river or the problem of blowing up a mountaintop for coal removal, but they're not solutionaries because they're not employing that ethical foundation of doing the most good in the least harm for everyone.

What is the MOGO principle?

 MOGO = most good and the least harm.

It is the ethical foundation for our work in humane education. Which explores the interconnections of human rights and environmental sustainability and animal protection. It's also the ethical foundation for being a solutionary who wants to solve problems in ways that are good for everyone.  So, in order to really embrace and and use this principle we need to know about the effects of our personal choices and our solutions on others and in a globalized world in which everything we eat and buy and wear and the energy we use comes to us through a a very intricate and complex global system.

We need to be able to understand what really will do the most good and the least harm. The three I's that you're talking about are a way to go about finding out what really is MOGO. Those three I's are Inquiry and Introspection and Integrity.


When we bring our inquiry, it means that we are going to actually investigate and research the impacts of any choice or any solution.

Let's say that I'm thirsty and I grab some bottled water.

  • Well, that bottled water might be coming in plastic and where was it bottled?
  • And how was it transported?  
  • What is the carbon footprint of having that bottled water as opposed to just filling up a reusable water bottle in the tap?

So, those are the kind of questions we would ask.

Now, some of them are simple. We pretty much all know that if we're getting bottled water, it's going to have a much bigger impact negative impact on others then if we just filled up with tap water, but so many of the things that we buy, we have no sense of and so many solutions that we might seek may have unintended negative consequences. If we're not really doing the research, we're not really bringing our inquiry.


Once we bought our inquiry and we gained some information about the impacts of our solutions and our choices, then we get to introspect on what we've learned. And that's really the process of enabling us to live with integrity.

So, when you have information, let's say that information is: Bottled water really has a lot of negative impacts. Where do my ethics, my personal ethics stand with that? If I want to address this in, let's say, our school system, where we may be serving bottled water, we may have vending machines that serve bottled water, and we've replaced juice with bottled water because we know that juice has other negative consequences. We're still not thinking through the entire impacts. So then we get to introspect.  Do we need vending machines? Could we have another alternative? Could we flavor our water with teabags instead of a bottle that is pre flavored with something?


Then when we brought our introspection, we have the opportunity to live with more integrity. We have the opportunity to create solutions that are more deeply aligned with the values of doing the most good and least harm.

Integrity just means that we're walking our talk. It's as simple as that. And personally, striving to live with integrity means that at least from the standpoint of other people who we might want to influence, they're going to think, "Oh, well, this is not somebody who's living hypocritically. They really are trying to walk their talk. Maybe I'll listen to them."

Living with integrity in terms of one's personal choices has an impact on the greater whole, but it's not going to change systems by itself. That's why we need to be solutionaries who transform the systems themselves. At the same time, if we don't walk our talk, if we don't live with integrity, we're missing an opportunity to have an impact and we're missing the greater opportunity to influence others.

What is Solutionary Thinking?

 Sure. And there's actually many kinds of thinking that go into solutionary thinking, but there are four main forms of thinking, and they are  critical thinking,  systems thinking, strategic thinking, and creative thinking.

Critical Thinking

When we are employing these thinking skills as solutionaries, we do start with critical thinking.  Critical thinking  forms the foundation for solutionary thinking, because if we don't know what's accurate, if we can't distinguish fact from opinion, if we are being influenced by false information, propaganda, or conspiracy theories that aren't legitimate, then that's going to impact our ability to solve problems. We're not starting out with fundamentally correct, accurate information. So, we train ourselves to be critical thinkers so that we are able to have that foundation of accuracy so that then we're going to be able to think in systems.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is really recognizing the interconnected systems that impact any problem. Very rarely is a problem in isolation from many systems that impact it. When we have good critical thinking skills as a foundation and we have the information that we need, then we can begin to think of the interconnected causes and the leverage points for creating change, which brings us to strategic thinking.

Strategic Thinking

If we want to solve problems, then we are going to have to be strategic. We're going to have to find good leverage points. Leverage points are places where a small force can have a big impact just like a lever lifting something. We learn to be strategic so that we're choosing those leverage points that are going to have the biggest impact now.

Creative Thinking

 Creative thinking then comes into play as we think about, "okay, what kind of solutions could I innovate at this particular leverage point?" Creative thinking has probably been helping us all along in critical thinking, systems thinking, and strategic thinking, but if we harness it when we get to the point where we want to come up with a solution, or multiple solutions to our problem, it can be really effective at that point in the thinking process.

Why Become a Solutionary and Shoulder the Burden of Problems? 

 Not everybody does, right? Not everybody wants to even be aware of the challenges that we face. That's been true forever, right? Humans are humans.

With that said, everybody should learn how to be a solutionary because solutionary thinking and a solutionary mindset is useful in:

  • In our personal lives
  • families
  • neighborhoods
  • communities
  • schools

So whether or not somebody wants to tackle some huge global problem, like climate change, they don't need to want to tackle that problem to learn how to be a solutionary and for being a solutionary to be really powerful in their lives.

How to Use the Solutionary Framework


So the first phase is to identify the problem that we want to solve.

Identifying a problem can be identifying a local manifestation of a global problem. So, you could be really worried about climate change, and you could identify a local problem that you can actually solve. Most of us, virtually all of us are not in a position to truly affect climate change, right? But we are in a position to look at climate change in our own homes. For example, what is our own impact on climate change in our own homes? What is our impact in our schools or in our community? So we can look and identify a local manifestation of a big problem, or we can just identify literally a problem that affects us.

Now, we want to learn. Let's say we do care about something as big as climate change. We do want to learn about climate change so that we are able to identify a specific problem that we have the capacity to impact in some way. The process of identification is a process of reading and learning and researching and talking to others to gain enough knowledge that we can create a problem statement. A problem statement is just a statement that synthesizes the problem we want to solve, so that we're not all over the place.


 So, this is where we really are employing our critical thinking skills. So, in phase 2, we are doing research to understand the causes of this problem and to connect with stakeholders.

Stakeholders are everyone and everything that is impacted by this problem and the systems that perpetuate it. Obviously we can't talk to trees and we can't talk to animals who might be impacted, but we can talk to those people who have been advocating for the environment or for other species and we can learn from them. When I also say everyone who is affected, I mean, not only those who are affected negatively, but also the people who are benefiting from the problem in the systems that perpetuate it because there are always beneficiaries. We wouldn't have these problems if somebody wasn't benefiting from these systems, right?

We need to understand the benefits as well as the harms, because when we go about finding solutions, we're going to want to find those solutions that do the most good and least harm for everyone. We're going to need beneficiaries on board so that we don't just have conflicts and those who have a lot more power and money are going to win. If we can collaborate, then maybe we can find these solutions that work for everybody or have the fewest unintended negative consequences. So this whole process, phase 2 of investigation, is doing this research and learning from stakeholders.


So this is where we are finding those leverage points andreally understanding the systems. So in phase two, we are going to begin to understand all of these interconnected systems: our economic systems, our political systems, our production systems, our food systems. We're going to see how they're all interconnected. We will have talked to stakeholders who've been striving to find solutions. So we'll hear about things that have been tried, things that have succeeded, things that have failed.

Now sometimes we luck out as solutionaries and we talk to others and we find out this fantastic solution is being implemented in a certain place and we've just learned about it and all we need to do is bring that solution into our context.

At other times, we are going to learn, "ugh, we have not cracked this nut. We have not figured out how to solve this problem." We may have learned from stakeholders that they tried this, and this, and this, and it all failed. So then we're going to have to be more innovative and go, "What could solve this problem?"  This is a very creative process and creative thinking comes into playin phase three when we are innovating solutions. So we're looking for strategies and then we're bringing our creativity to that so that we come up with solutions.

The goal is to come up with solutionary solutions. A solutionary solution is one that addresses the root and or systemic causes of the problem and solves it in a way that does the most good and the least harm for everyone. This is what distinguishes this process from just problem solving, right?


Phase four is implement, a really important aspect of our work. We want people to be able to implement their solution at least to some degree, and this includes students in classrooms.  So you don't want to go through the entire process and then just stop before you have taken the steps to implement your solution, because you're going to learn a lot in that implementation process.

 First, you're going to actually have the opportunity to contribute, which is what you started out doing this work to achieve from the get go.  

Second, you're going to be able to evaluate your solution. Is this really working? If it's not, we need to iterate. We need to shift. We need to improve upon our ideas.

That process of learning from the implementation is really, really important. And it's going to be important as we share this with others. We want to make sure that if we're doing this in classrooms with students, that we save time and space for implementation. If we're doing it on our own, that we don't stop before we have tried to implement.

What's at stake for the world if you don't address how we are educating our children?

Oh my goodness, Brandon, so much is at stake.  It's hard to underestimate  how potentially catastrophic some of the problems that we face are, and how eminently solvable they are at the same time.

We have a tremendous opportunity, particularly with how we educate young people, to learn how to to cultivate critical, systems, strategic and creative thinking in service to solving problems.  If we squander that opportunity, this will not only be terrible for our future, but it's really quite terrible for youth. There's no way to escape the upsetting knowledge that we see in our news feeds or our social media. We see the bad stuff more than the good stuff. Yet, so much good stuff is happening. So much progress is being made. In order to stay on that trajectory of really solving problems and solving conflicts, we need to be able to think in these solutionary ways.

We need to have these skills, particularly in an age of disinformation and misinformation.  We must have the critical thinking skills in order to be able to address problems both effectively and collaboratively. And right now we're just, we're seeing polarization grow, division grow, conflict grow, and the solutionary process is a corrective to all of that. It's really the antidote to polarization. There are very few problems that we can't find some point of agreement where we can collaborate across divides to solve them.  In doing so, we reduce polarization.  We actually build a more sustainable, just, and healthy world for everyone.

Want to Learn More About Becoming a Solutionary?

Get Zoe's book The Solutionary Way,  her culmination of everything that she has worked for and learned in her many decades of being a humane educator.

Visit the Institute for Human Education to find whatever you need to advance you work as educators and solutionaries who want to build a more just peaceful and sustainable future for all life.

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