The onion strikes back: Maggie Koerth on the nested problems of Covid-19 testing

Covid-19 testing has been a mixed bag: Singapore and Korea seem to have been able to get on top of things quickly, while the UK and US (to pick too) have – at least in comparison – seemed barely able to get their act together at all. Maggie Koerth‘s discussion of the issue with Kevin Kelly and Mark Frauenfelder points…

Bill Gates’ onion

This is a nice illustration of a set of nested problems (a.k.a. “The Onion“) in development from Bill and Melinda Gates’ philanthropic work. Often – most of the time? – the technical solution is only a small part of a whole system needed to bring about change. See also The Wrapper. … In the case of global health, I thought…

The Onion (3): exemplar interesting problem – learning to read

Problems gain (or lose) interestingness as their context and scale changes. Take teaching a kids to read as an example. It’s almost inevitable that a child will learn to read given the following ingredients: A supportive family A strong reading culture at home A steady supply of good books A reasonable curriculum or methodology for teaching An well educated, motivated…

The Onion (2): a model for solving interesting problems

My first post about The Onion looked at interesting problems as systems of networked sub-problems, and suggested that our solutions will mirror this structure. The Onion is also a good metaphor for the process of finding practical solutions: we work from solving the smallest problems in theory, outwards to technical solutions, before we finally build a (networked system of) practical…

The Onion (1): understanding interesting problems

This post is a sketch of a way of thinking about how problems work, and what we need to do to make our solutions (“the change we seek to make”) effective. It’s bit abstract – I’ll share a more concrete illustration in a later post. We often talk about interesting problems as if they’re discrete units: How can I keep…

Nested problems, nested solutions (8): the leadership and ownership problem

This is part of a series thinking through the different layers involved in solving real-world problems. It’s a sketch of ideas in process. The final layer of the onion is about leadership and responsibility for the whole organisation: setting tone, maintaining or correcting course, and thinking about what needs to happen next to grow it has a healthy, impactful and…

Nested problems, nested solutions (1): what’s your problem?

I’ve posted about nested problems before as The Wrapper, and The Onion (1), (2), (3), (4). It helps to begin by defining “problem”. A problem isn’t necessarily big or important and doesn’t necessarily require action: it’s simply anything that you want to change. We face hundreds of problems every day: My morning alarm is disturbing me – how can I…

Resource: Seth Godin on Business Models

I think of the business model as the enabling “wrapper” around the “technical” solution you make happen. If you’re a plumber, it’s all the business stuff. If you’re a teacher, it might be the whole infrastructure of a school. In a non-profit, it’s the rest of the “onion” around the thing you want to do that actually makes a difference…

Machine. Ecosystem. (7) – Style is content (text as system)

Style is content. Poet Marvin Bell reminds us that the content of a poem is not the same as a poem’s contents, reminding us that when we paraphrase what a poem is about (its contents) we are not talking about the poem itself (its content or meaning), losing sight of what it does to us as we read it. The…