Small problems

To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age. ‘Tis much better to do a little with certainty, & leave the rest for others that come after you, than to explain all things by conjecture without making sure of any thing.

-Isaac Newton

I often get the feeling of working on too small of a problem. I spend my days figuring out how to reduce energy consumption in buildings. One building at a time. As I work through project after project, the energy savings directly attributable to my work continue to add up, but it still feels very small.

I’ve been wondering: If I’m going to devote my life to something, shouldn’t it be higher impact? Shouldn’t I be working on entire cities at a time? Countries? If I’m in the energy field, shouldn’t I be solving climate change? Shouldn’t I be working on buildings + transportation + shipping + generation + renewables, etc., etc.?

It wasn’t until I came across the Freakanomics concept of thinking small and Newton’s quote (via Think Like A Freak) that I began to relax about this. Huge problems like climate change are really a “dense mass of intertwined small problems” disguised as one problem. You can’t solve the big one without experts solving all the little ones.

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