Co-solving: When One Solution Addresses Several Problems

Co-solving has three parts. In both, we use fewer resources to get more done, more effectively—and we share those resources so they don’t have to be expensively duplicated:

1. Address multiple issues with one solution. Just as a single tree provides at least 13 different services—food, oxygen, shade, carbon sequestration, light modulation, habitat, temperature modulation, emergency shelter, construction materials, energy, paper, soil rehabilitation, and water management—so we humans can design efficient methods for accomplishing multiple tasks. Examples: a structural assembly that not only holds up a roof but provides heating and cooling, a conduit for pipes and cables, and an aesthetically attractive enhancement to the living or working space—or a solar-powered LED lantern that not only eliminates kerosene’s toxic fumes and fire hazard, but also helps the user climb out of poverty by both eliminating the need to buy fuel every month and providing several extra hours per day of useful light for cottage industries.

2. Reach out to partner strategically with others who already reach your market or have skills and capabilities that complement yours. Seek out and implement the perfect partnerships with people and organizations that can recommend you to their audience, expand your base, and lower your costs while increasing your revenues. If Apple can partner with IBM, the US Postal Service can partner with FedEx, and General Motors can partner with Toyota (all REAL examples), surely you can benefit by partnering with other organizations. Possibilities could include business, labor, charity, nonprofit, academic, community, and government.

3. Bring different perspectives to deal with a single issue. When the only people who work on a problem are all trained the same way, solutions that could arise out of other ways of seeing the world, other ways of thinking, get missed. By enlarging the conversation to include people from other departments, other industries, or even other whole slices of the economy (business, academia, nonprofit/NGO, government, consumer, etc.), new possibilities emerge. The drive-up window was not a fast-food invention; banks had them more than a decade earlier. Velcro was first used in the space program.

The corporate world talks about “getting people out of their silos” so Marketing, Sales, and Engineering can all brainstorm together. Academics gather in “interdisciplinary teams” to study phenomena that might include astrophysics, biology, and sociology. Nonprofits/NGOs and government agencies understand “partnerships” such as public-private collaborations and cause-related marketing. Online marketing masters organize “joint ventures (JVs)” for massively successful product launches. Community organizers “build coalitions” with other groups, coming together on the issues where they agree, and separating when they diverge.

Just as co-solving itself brings people from different spheres together to solve one set of problems or address one set of issues, these different but overlapping perspectives all teach us something. We can create win-win syntheses of the best of all this thinking, and use that power and synergy to address—and solve—even the most intractable problems.

Want to know more? Contact Shel Horowitz using any of the methods at, including the contact form on that page