Are all problems worth solving?

Note to my future self…

For a while now I’ve thinking about whether there are some problem worth solving over others. Intuitively it feels that solving problems like curing cancer, reducing greenhouse emissions, lowering healthcare costs, etc. is more important than creating a better photo-sharing app or a new fashion brand. It’s even hard for many people to classify the latter as actual problems. Nevertheless, a massive amount of resources (e.g. billions of dollars, millions of days of human labor, etc.) are poured into solving seemingly trivial problems.

Trying to figure out whether a problem is important vs. trivial is a very tricky exercise. For one it quickly becomes apparent that the subject’s morals and personal experience come into play. For example, if a closed loved one passed away from skin cancer you might argue that solving cancer (and that specific type of cancer) is very important. We see this behavior with affluent people that set up foundations to tackle illnesses that they or a close one have had.

This made me wonder if there’s a way to model the value of solving a problem? ****Maybe we could come up with a scale that takes into account the urgency of the problem, the number of people that it will impact, the extent to which it will impact people’s life, the economic value created by this solving problem, etc.

A model like this will show that solving seemingly trivial problems (e.g. last-mile grocery delivery) might actually be worth it due to # of people it impacts and the economic value created. This model would ultimately result in a composite score that takes into all this factors. This obviously an imperfect model (aren’t all models supposed to be like this) but in my opinion it an provide us with a better framework to think about what problems we should be thinking about solving.

Modeling a problem – a thought experiment

1 – You have a problem you want to solve

+0.1-1.0 – You improve the lives of 1-10M people

+0.1-1.0 – You can create $10-$100M in business value (will vary depending on you measure this)

+0.1-1.0 – Solving this problem will significantly accelerate the development of other solutions


As you can see this is just a quick draft of what a model like that would look like but I think it’s an idea worth exploring. I will keep thinking about it and report back any updates.

Now back to work…