Being unreasonable is not just a state of mind. It is also a process by which older, outdated forms of reasoning are jettisoned and new ones conceived and evolved. As the process unfolds, those mired in the older, obsolete paradigms can become threatened by—and aggressive toward—the innovators, particularly if those innovators move into the mainstream worlds of business, finance, and politics. But like it or not, the world is in the early stages of powerful, deep-running, and pervasive changes that, for better or worse, will transform its economies, its cultures, and people’s understanding of who they are and what they stand for.

Our intention in what follows is simple: to introduce a new generation of social and environmental entrepreneurs and to investigate the relevance of their thinking about value creation, their business models, and their leadership styles for mainstream decision makers. We include many predictions and observations from the entrepreneurs themselves, culled from hundreds of hours of interviews, personal conversations, and direct collaboration over decades of intensive work in related areas.

These social and environmental entrepreneurs lead by example. They attack intractable problems, take huge risks, and force the rest of us to look beyond the edge of what seems possible. They seek outlandish goals, such as economic and environmental sustainability and social equity, often aiming to transform the systems whose dysfunctions help create or aggravate major socioeconomic, environmental, or political problems. In so doing, they uncover new ways to disrupt established industries while creating new paths for the future.

Global corporations are now scouting for high-impact social and environmental entrepreneurs. Why? They give three main reasons. First, market intelligence (these entrepreneurs are seen as highly sensitive barometers for detecting market risks and opportunities). Second, retention and development of talent (a growing number of companies, like Accenture, say that offering the opportunity to work alongside accomplished entrepreneurs factors into staff retention, as well as professional development). And, third, as one CEO at a recent Davos summit candidly put it, “It is nice to be seen with people who are loved.”

All this should come with a clear caveat, however: as in any field of entrepreneurship, many of these people will fail, and some will fail repeatedly as they tackle tough challenges. But periods of great change are built on intense experimentation and, often, high failure rates. Our reading of the evidence suggests that the work of these innovators and entrepreneurs heralds a new phase in the evolution of business, markets, and capitalism itself. The mainstream players who heed the lessons from these innovators’ experience will find new opportunities to fulfill unmet needs in the vast underserved markets of the twenty-first century.

Think of it this way: whatever they may intend, these entrepreneurs are doing early market research on some of the biggest opportunities of the coming decades. In attempting to bridge the great divides between privileged populations and the poor, they address the critical challenges where traditional markets fail. But, as we shall see, they cannot tackle market failures on their own. Instead, their efforts need to be supported by all levels of government, by business, by the financial markets, and by civil society’s organizations and ordinary citizens—that is, by each and every one of us. We outline some necessary actions for key sectors in the conclusion.