Orville Wright's Diary, 1903. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Orville Wright's Diary, 1903. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Writings useful for understanding and taking on big problems are divided by general sources and particular topics (e.g., making decisions, designing operations).  Most do not directly address solving big problems but contain ideas that are important for doing so.  Writings that apply only to particular types of big problems are listed on their respective pages. 

General Sources

MagazinesStanford Social Innovation Review, MIT Technology Review


Publishers: PublicAffairs, National Academies Press

Other: Pulitzer Prizes 

Particular Topics

Behavioral Decision Making.  Work in this field shows how people really make decisions rather than how they ideally should.  It highlights decision traps (systematic errors) that all of us fall into.  Avoiding these traps and making better decisions is easy once we are aware of the many traps.  There are several books written on behavioral decision making.  The ones below are by people at the forefront of the field.

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Judgment in Managerial Decision Making by Max H. Bazerman and Don A. Moore
  • Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It by Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel
  • Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

Operations.  Designing the operations of an organization to ensure good quality, high efficiency and low cost, ability to scale up or replicate are essential to solving big problems.  Some useful books on operations:

  • The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer by Jeffrey Liker, 2004.
  • The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement: Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence to Achieve Superior Performance by Jeffrey Liker and James K. Franz, 2011.

Decision-Making Technique - Positive Deviance. Positive deviance is a technique about discovering solutions to big problems. The idea behind it is that in any population some people have already figured out the solution to a big problem. They are the ‘positive deviants’and we need to discover who they are, understand what they do and how they do it, and then try to disseminate their approach to solving big problems in the wider population. The method is described in the book The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World's Toughest Problems by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin and Monique Sternin. The Sternins are the originators of this field-based technique.