Life Simplified: Complex Problems

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

I’ve been reading Out of Poverty, what works when traditional approaches fail, by Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises. Polak excels at designing the simplest possible technology to aid the millions of people around the world who live on a dollar a day or less. Though often overlooked or dismissed by career professionals working in the field of third-world development, Polak’s grassroots approach to eradicating poverty is both sensible and hopeful.
canoe on African lake

In the book and in his work he takes care to defend how it is that very simple solutions can address complex problems. As an example he offers the eradication of malaria. Malaria kills one to three million people every year, sickening hundreds of millions more. The life cycle of the disease parasite, both in its human and Anopheles mosquito hosts, is complicated and not fully understood. Disease vectors are tricky, influenced by uncontrollable variables such as rainfall. The solution, it would seem, would have to be equally complicated.

There is one simple, cheap tool that has succeeded in turning the tide in the battle against malaria, an age-old technology adapted with new features. World health professionals have found that bed nets impregnated with insecticide, which cost around $3 US, reduce malaria infection by a whopping 70 percent, and interrupt the disease’s transmission.

What is your experience? Do complex problems require complex solutions? Have you seen complexity get in the way of effective solutions? Do you have a complex productivity problem, like how to get every thing done that you need to do? Please post it here.

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