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 […]

Two Rabbis who Knew Some Stuff

I came across two wonderful quotes last night, both from rabbis. Here is the first, by Hillel: That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn. I love that. The Golden Rule is the essence of spirituality, and the […]

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 […]

Usury in America

  One of the most well-known kinds of poverty traps is the debt to the moneylender. It goes like this: in the midst of a crisis, you’re forced to take out a loan to keep the lights on and food on the table. The interest on the loan is so high that all your available […]

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 […]