What is This?

Over the years, I have been moved by stories of creative solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems — in particular, problems of poverty, disease, and disenfranchisement. These stories of small changes created enormous benefits. As I started to collect these stories, I noticed that many of them had patterns in common. From the story of Mohammed […]

Reframing Problems to Create Solutions

  One of the most important principles of problem-solving is that changing the definition of the problem can help you come up with a solution. To illustrate this, I’m going to use a children’s story I read in grade school: A hero goes to steal a valuable treasure from a king. The king is protective of […]

The Death of Illusions

Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that the death of our illusions is one of the hardest kinds of death. And so, even when our stories do not work, we cling to them anyways. We may refuse to provide help to alleviate suffering, because the type of help does not fit neatly enough into our […]

A Simple Mental Health Protocol Whose Time is Long Overdue

“I see you checked depression on your intake form. Because depression can be a symptom of an underlying health problem, I’m going to check your blood levels for B12, B6, and vitamin D. I’m also going to test your thyroid and iron levels. And finally, even if your B-12 levels are normal, I recommend you […]

The Sari-Cloth Water Filter

The solution to controlling cholera will be high-tech analyses to produce extremely low-tech solutions. – Dr. Rita Colwell Cholera is a pathogen which, in humans, causes uncontrollable diarrhea so severe it can lead to death. While almost unknown in the first world, it is still an intractable problem in the third world, where many people […]

Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

Use the Right The Emotional Toolkit

One of the most difficult things about helping the suffering is the amount of emotional investment involved. There can be a sense of futility and overwhelm, as if you are trying to move a mountain with a spoon. We end up with questions like these: “This person’s poor choices led him to this situation. Why […]

The Austin Women’s Clothing Swap

This case study is a great example of one of our basic rules of problem solving, Appeal to Self-Interest. The idea is that you “sell” a self-help idea to a community by immediately creating a short-term incentive. By getting a large group of people enthusiastic and on-board, you are able to create cascading positive changes […]

The Marvelous Pot-in-Pot

  (posted 2011) In parts of Nigeria, a quiet revolution has been happening in the lives of villagers. Suddenly, families previously without electricity are able to keep food fresh for weeks at a time. Young girls who previously had to stay at home are now able to attend school. Family income is on the rise. The […]

The Most Secure Computer is No Computer at All

In the best tv show ever made, Battlestar Galactica, humanity is at war against evil robots called the Cylons. The humans have big battleships that use very antiquated technology in order to protect themselves from hacking by the technologically-advanced Cylons. Using old hardware is their best defense. The Navy appears to be thinking something along the […]

Even More Centrifuges

As I mention in another post, the problem of getting functioning centrifuges in the poor world is a big one. While Dr. Oluyombo Awojobi created a centrifuge from old bicycle parts, Stanfor’d Manu Prakash has solved it in a different way — by using an ancient children’s toy called a whirligig:   See more in this […]

Remember the Old Ways

How many fantasy novels have Our Heroine travel a dangerous path, only to have an old wise woman give them the Sacred Amulet, the Ancient Book, or some other relic of the olden days that can save civilization’s bacon in the knick of time, right here in the present? Well, knowledge in the real world […]

Menstrual Man

This man is my hero. He’s like a mad-scientist crossed with MacGyver. I love this story. A choice excerpt: He created a “uterus” from a football bladder by punching a couple of holes in it, and filling it with goat’s blood. A former classmate, a butcher, would ring his bicycle bell outside the house whenever […]

Clear Trauma

Ever had something really traumatic happen? Ever lived through the death of a close relative? Your thoughts become jumbled and disoriented. Large swaths of your mental computer become unavailable for you to use, often for a very long time. For some people who have been through years of crisis and neglect, every day is full […]