Tackling The Really Big Problems

A great way to boost your career is to solve a really big problem. But you say, “That’s not so easy.”

Trying to teach by example, in two recent columns, I proposed solutions to three big problems: boring, ineffective schools, time-robbing, air-polluting toll plazas, and having to build regressively taxing, freeway-clogging casinos to buy off tiny Indian tribes.

A reader, Suzanne Spence from Sunnyvale, CA, then emailed me: “Great stuff. Next, would you tell us how to solve the Palestinian/Israeli crisis and how to change our ridiculous system of choosing our elected leaders. And while you’re at it, tell us how to stop global warming.”

Okay. I’ll give it a shot. And at the end, I’ll offer you some tips on how to solve a big problem of your own choosing.

Reinventing our election system

All campaigns should be just three weeks long and publicly funded. Under our current system, most really good candidates are unwilling to run because it requires endless fundraising and post-election payback instead of decision-making based on what’s best for the citizenry.

Today’s mass media (Internet, TV, radio, and print) would allow the public adequate exposure to the candidates for far less money than currently spent

As an antidote to spinmeister-driven speeches and commercials (including irrelevant deceptions by the likes of the Swift Boaters and Texans for “Truth,”) every registered voter would receive a one-pager produced by a non-partisan organization such as the League of Women Voters describing each candidate’s voting record and positions on the central issues.

Solving the Palestinian-Israeli problem

For thousands of years, Jews and Arabs have been unable to live peacefully side by side. How naive to have placed Israel right in the middle of the Arab world. The solution to the Palestinian/Israeli crisis is for another country with ample unused land such as the US, Canada, or Australia to offer an Israel-sized sliver of low-value land as the New Israel.

Such countries set aside much larger swaths merely to protect trees or wildlife, so it is reasonable to assume that at least one country would offer a sliver to protect humans. This is especially likely because the donor country would become an instant worldwide hero for solving the age-old Arab-Israeli conflicts and reducing the global threat of Islamic terrorism. Plus, the New Israel would become that country’s deeply indebted ally. That is significant because Israel, for example, is an acknowledged world leader in how to defend against terrorism, something, alas, of ever increasing importance.

Of course, it’s possible that no country would give that sliver to the Israelis. After all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused even to accept a ship of Holocaust victims during World War II. But I believe the chances of a country donating that sliver are far greater than the chances of the Palestinians and Israelis peacefully living side-by-side.

All Israeli citizens would be given the option to move to New Israel. Low-income people could apply for help with moving expenses. The World Bank, G-8, or other consortium would fund this. Of course, some Israelis would elect to remain in Israel, but over time, most would emigrate to New Israel or other countries. That would peaceably transition the current Israel/Palestine into a Palestinian state with too few Jews to engender significant conflict.

As a child of Holocaust survivors, I certainly understand that many Israelis would find it difficult to trade their historical homeland for a new one, but to save lives and ensure ongoing peace for both Jews and Arabs, I believe it is a compromise worth making.

Reducing Global Warming

The biggest source of global warming is vehicle emission.

Stage 1 of my solution is based on current technology. The 2004 Toyota Prius, a midsized car with plenty of power, averages 45 miles per gallon while polluting far less than conventional cars. I propose that the G-8 or other consortium of nations agree that all new cars, trucks, and buses to be sold in their countries be powered by hybrid engines or even better technologies as they come available. That would drastically reduce pollution without mass transit schemes’ enormous cost and restriction of freedom to travel.

Stage 2: Hydrogen vehicles offer a zero-pollution solution but broad implementation is impractical for at least a decade. To encourage vehicle manufacturers to prioritize the necessary research, the above consortium would mandate that beginning in, say, 2012, increasing percentages of vehicles be hydrogen-powered.

In addition to reducing global warming, this plan would reduce dependence on fundamentalist extremist countries for our energy.

You: Mega-Problem Solver

Okay, now back to you. I want you to solve a big problem that would help ensure your career success.

1. What’s a big problem your current employer faces? Spend a half-hour today thinking about how to solve it. If necessary, get help.

2. What’s a big societal problem that you want to take a shot at solving? Spend a half-hour today thinking about how to solve it. If necessary, get help.


3. Write a one-pager describing your solution. Show it to the immediate universe. Keep improving it until lots of people say, “Wow!” But remember that many innovations are first ridiculed, later adopted, and then thought to have always existed.

Whether or not your solution works, you win. You’ll feel good about having tried to make a big difference, you’ll have impressed others that you think big, and who knows, maybe you'll cure cancer.

© 2008, Marty Nemko

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Marty Nemko holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. He is the worklife columnist in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle and is the producer and host of Work With Marty Nemko, heard Sundays at 11 on 91.7 FM in (NPR, San Francisco), and worldwide on . 400+ of his published writings are available free on that website and is a co-editor of Cool Careers for Dummies. and author of The All-in-One College Guide. E-Mail.

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