Businesses, not-for-profits, and governments frequently tout the importance of finding solutions to our modern world's most pressing problems. Billions of dollars are spent each year to eradicate disease, reduce hunger, clean up the environment, stimulate job growth, and a host of other worthwhile endeavors.
In the bestselling book Super Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, the authors include a fascinating chapter devoted to solving big problems in surprisingly simple ways. They chronicle these simple solutions:
- How maternity ward deaths were dramatically reduced in the mid 1800â€˜s when doctors and students began disinfecting their hands properly;
- How inexpensive fertilizer revolutionized agricultural production and feeds billions of people economically;
- How discovering oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania saved the whale from certain extinction;
- How vaccines have nearly eliminated frightening diseases like polio; and
- How seat belts have prevented thousands of automobile deaths since they were first introduced.
If lifesaving, life-altering solutions can be developed by using a common sense, simple approach, why aren't we nurturing this way of thinking in the public and private sectors?
The simple answer is too often about money and power. Low-cost or no-cost solutions don't benefit shareholders, offer recognition to donors, or garner votes in an election. If a societal problem persists special interest groups will have a platform to raise money, politicians will have a topic for their sound bites, and charities will have a reason to exist.
Simple solutions lack sex-appeal. They turn the curve on issues without the usual combination of money spent and recognition gained. If a community problem, like homelessness, can only be solved through building shelters, opening food banks, and creating a bureaucracy to support the effort it will always remain an issue at arm's length. Unless the people living in the community become engaged in changing the systems that contribute to homelessness, the best ideas may never surface.
But what incentive for creative low-cost solutions exists when other people have created jobs and revenue streams that depend on the problem not being solved?
Changing other people's behavior is hard, changing our own mindset and behavior is probably even harder. I wonder if there is a simple solution for that?