Want to Make a Difference in the World? Think Small

Ambition can work against you by leading you to set unrealistic and overwhelming goals. Want to make a difference in the world? Think small. It’s much less complicated.

Ambition can work against you by leading you to set unrealistic and overwhelming goals. Want to make a difference in the world? Think small. It’s much less complicated, you’ll have easier access to the data that you’ll need. Most importantly, you will preserve one of your most precious resources: optimism.


Having the will to attack an issue at its root—from launching a socially conscious business to demanding more green spaces in your neighborhood—requires energy and enthusiasm to see the project through. By being less ambitious in your plans you’re more likely to stick with them and be successful.

Besides, when you first developed your problem-solving skills you were small—a child. Stephen Dubner, the co-author, with economist Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics and Think Like a Freak, wants you to go back to that way of thinking:  

One of the most powerful pieces of thinking like a child that we argue is thinking small.  So I realize that this runs exactly counter to the philosophy of the arena in which I’m appearing which is thinking big, Big Think, but our argument is this.  Big problems are by their nature really hard to solve for a variety of reasons.  One is they’re large and therefore they include a lot of people and therefore they include a lot of crossed and often mangled and perverse incentives. But also a big problem – when you think about a big problem like education reform.  You’re dealing with an institution or set of institutions that have gotten to where they’ve gotten to this many, many years of calcification and also accidents of history.  What I mean by that is things have gotten the way they’ve gotten because of a lot of things a few people did many, many years ago and traditions were carried on.

Want to break those traditions and build something new and forward-thinking? Then curb your ambition. Start to look at the world again with the eyes of a child.

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