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…

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 (7): Astro Teller on management and organisational culture

Yesterday’s post ended with the tension between designing systems and fostering a culture – writing scripts and setting tone – that will make it possible for an organisation to achieve its goals. In this great – and perfectly timed – interview on the excellent Exponential View podcast with Azeem Azhar, (Google) X’s CEO (or “Chief of Moonshots”) Astro Teller talks…

Nested problems, nested solutions (6): the management 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. So now you’re operating: you’ve got a solution to a problem that people want, and you’ve got the systems and people in place that you need to make it scaleable and repeatable. By now you’ve probably got…

Nested problems, nested solutions (5): operational problems

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. Once you’ve solved a practical problem, you might be done. You’ve taught the children in front of you to read; you and your neighbours are exercising regularly; you’ve helped a client to change their financial habits for…

Nested problems, nested solutions (4): practical problems

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. If you’ve solved or ignored your way past your trivial problems and researched your way out of theoretical problems, you’re likely to find yourself facing a practical problem. Practical problems are about bringing the theoretical solutions we…

Nested problems, nested solutions (3): theoretical problems

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, and not supposed to be a fully formed or coherent theory. A theoretical problem is a problem for which the underlying causes are unknown. The problem to be solved is your ignorance. You might start with a…

Nested problems, nested solutions (2): trivial problems

If you missed it, start with yesterday’s post. A problem is anything we want to change – however trivial or enormous. Our very simplest problems have immediate symptoms and immediate solutions: a (non-recurring) itchy nose can be scratched and the problem is solved. Many trivial problems can be “solved” by the decision that they are not important and can be…

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…

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…