The world has problems.
Extreme poverty, famine, violence and human rights abuses abound in large and small ways, all around the globe. Global warming is becoming a real and present issue. We all agree that fundamental change needs to occur. However, governments, charities and private interest groups have been trying to tackle global issues for over 80 years now.
In 2014 alone, the continent of Africa received 47.6 billion dollars in foreign aid. Yet, widespread poverty is still the norm. We’ve been throwing billions of dollars at the problems we face as a species, and yet the same problems that affected our great grandparents affect us today.
Now, big ideas are important. Vital even. What starts out as a pipe dream can end up shifting the entire course of human history. Gender and racial equality, global communications, the internet. Even electricity was strange and unusual at one point in time. When we tackle big social problems, we look for big ideas. Across every industry and issue, big ideas are celebrated and encouraged.
…but acting small
However, the marketing business teaches us that, when attempting to influence behaviour, small change properly packaged is always easier to achieve. ‘Add a banana to your cereal each morning’ is much easier to do than ‘eat fruit every day’. The outcome is virtually the same, yet one is a small, easily achieved and maintained tweak whilst the other can represent a much more challenging adjustment in behaviour. Regular, small changes add up, and over time, can fundamentally affect behaviour at both an individual and societal level.
Understanding big problems, in order to guide small solutions
It starts with understanding the problem. Specifically, what are the root causes and factors contributing to the problem. A strong, extensive understanding of the problem influences meaningful and effective solutions.
Take poverty in developed nations for an example. Everyone has an opinion on what causes poverty, such as drug addiction, lack of motivation and/or education, inequality, and so on. However, we don’t actually have a great deal of impartial data on the root causes of poverty to address it properly. Indeed, the causes of poverty in a developed nation like the US may be quite different than in sub-saharan Africa. We really don’t know.
Rather than attempting to solve poverty, seek to solve the smaller factors that contribute to it. Over time, small changes build up to make a big difference.
Execution over ideas
Everyone has ideas, but ideas themselves don’t have any intrinsic value. The execution of those ideas is where the real value lies.
By all means, think. But don’t think so much that you forget to act.