Introduction

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 Bah Abba’s brilliant Pot-in-Pot clay “refrigerator,” I saw the pattern of rethinking how to use modest resources. From the story of the Grameen Bank and microcredit, I saw how improving the lives of women creates cascading benefits for entire communities. From Rita Colwell’s genius in using old sari cloth to filter cholera bacteria from water, I saw the power of combining sophisticated analyses with simple, low-tech solutions.

After years of collecting such stories, I have teased out what I feel are common patterns, or rules, for effective problem-solving of any kind, and in particular for the kind of bootstrap problem-solving which creates effective social change. These rules contain ideas which are scaleable – that is, they can be used at a personal, local, community, state, or national level.

What I have written is, at its most simple, a small set of instructions – new ways of examining problems from a different perspective, and new ways of constructing solutions for them. Just as programmers must have effective sets of instructions (or algorithms) with which to design elegant solutions in code, so in our present and changed world, we must have new algorithms with which to design our methods of resistance, change, and healing.

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