Want to Achieve Something Big? Think Small.

The best way to solve a big problem is to think small.

It’s one thing to see a big problem, and it’s another to know how to fix it. But it’s something else altogether to actually get to done. When people go for a Big Solution to a hard issue, they usually fail, frustrated and disheartened. Writer Stephen Dubner understands why and how to proceed in a way that can actually work.


The key, ironically for a post on Big Think, is to think small, as he says children do. A big, sweeping solution could possibly remedy an abstract, generalized version of the issue, but real thing is not likely to be so one-dimensional. A hard problem is usually a combination of many smaller ones.

Dubner’s got a great example of how a fresh perspective can reveal things within a tough issue—meaningful education reform—that are possible to resolve relatively easily, in this case a program for personalizing instruction, and another to get kids the eyeglasses they need to succeed. Tackling fixable problems like this, one-by-one, can lead in time to resolving the larger issue.

It’s not a new idea, at least to Eastern philosophers. Do these sound familiar?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step—Lao Tzu

The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones—Confucius

The same method applies, by the way, to overwhelming personal problems that are so big they seem impossible. (I wrote a song about this a while back.)

California wildfires death toll climbs to 50

Firefighters in California are still struggling to contain several wildfires nearly one week after they broke out.

(Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Hundreds of people are still missing after three wildfires spread across Northern and Southern California last week.
  • 48 of the 50 deaths occurred after the Camp Fire blazed through the town of Paradise, north of Sacramento.
  • On Tuesday night, a fourth wildfire broke out, though it's mostly contained.
Keep reading Show less

Too much sleep results in cognitive decline, researchers find

We know the dangers of too little sleep. Now for the other side of the story.

Photo: Vladislav Muslakvo / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Western University researchers found that sleeping over eight hours per night results in cognitive decline.
  • Oversleepers suffer similar difficulties on certain cognitive tests as those who sleep under seven hours.
  • Not all the news is bad: One night of oversleeping results in a cognitive boost.
Keep reading Show less

Russian reporters discover 'tortured' orcas and belugas jammed in offshore pens

Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.

(VL.ru)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Russian news network discovers 101 black-market whales.
  • Orcas and belugas are seen crammed into tiny pens.
  • Marine parks continue to create a high-price demand for illegal captures.
Keep reading Show less