How to Solve a Complex Problem – Kristian Dubrawski

Name: Kristian Dubrawski

Talk Title: “How to Solve a Complex Problem”

Notes: Faculty: Applied Science, Department: Chem. Bio. Engineering, Degree Program: PhD

Topic: In the 1970s, various NGOs, including UNICEF tried to solve a problem – Bangladesh had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. 8 million quick and inexpensive wells were drilled, and infant mortality and illness decreased by 50%. The unintended consequence was that 1.6 million wells were drilled into water containing high levels of arsenic, affecting as many as 77 million Bangladeshis. Today, about 1 in 5 deaths (Lancet, 2010) in Bangladesh can be attributed in some degree to this arsenic, which causes lesions, diabetes, and a world of cancers. Worse, no solution is in sight, and the effects are irreversible. The problem just got an order of magnitude more complex.

Rule #1: Don’t let the solution be more complex than the original problem.

What is a complex problem? What is complexity? How is nature so complex when there is only 3 forces that govern everything? I’m going to look at some of these questions along with some real world examples, from a professional problem solver (an engineering) point of view. I’ll take some examples from my research, quantum physics, Kierkegaard, the Dalai Lama, Cuba literacy programs, Michael Pollan, Polio eradication, OpenCourseWare, and the Treatment Action Campaign.


Filmed by Craig Ross at TEDx Terry talks 2010 (October 2nd, 2010). Video edited by David Ng.

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