What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?

Posted by Rezwan Razani on Jul 12, 2013 at 12:36 PM
What do you think about this? Let us know in the comments below!

Participation in the Games for Change Festival prompts some organizational soul searching.

At the Games for Change festival in June, we met cutting edge game designers, pondered the social impact of games, and were asked, “what problem are you trying to solve?” 

It seemed a simple enough question, until we tried to answer it. 

What problem are we trying to solve? 

The Fusion Problem, of course. 

What’s that?  Well, to put it another way:

  1. How do we bring about practical commercial fusion power? That sounds like we are conducting fusion research.  But we’re not.  We have a support function.  So our problem is really: 
  2. How do we support the fusion endeavor?   With this platform, of course.  But then why do these two additional questions pop up: First, how do we convince people a support function is required? (Dan Palotta to the rescue); and second, why fusion in particular?  You’re trying to solve the energy problem, right?  Well, yes, but also an epic science problem.  But OK, let’s look at that energy problem:
  3. How do we solve the energy + poverty + global warming problem?  Related issue:  Fusion has uncertainty. Even if fusion is achievable and is an ultimate solution, it is not immediately available to help with the energy problem.  What will help the energy problem right now?  This is not an easy question to answer.  There are many competing answers, and more importantly, a lot of contention and tribalism surrounding the answers.  This draws our attention to the problem of noise surrounding possible energy solutions. 
  4. How do we clear up the energy solution noise signal We’re working on that!  With our Experiment Tracker and the Energy Cinderella Project.  But we notice that the problem isn’t a simple data, infographics or cost-benefit problem.  Many organizations have a vested interest in jamming the energy solution signal.  Keeping it noisy.  This is a Return on Investment (ROI) and Conflict of Interest (COI) problem.  So:
  5. How do we clear up the ROI-COI problemTough one.  It takes place on a corporate level, and involves businesses and institutions.  That’s the level at which the energy problem needs to be solved.  But there’s one more level.  These entities are run by individuals, by consumers, who drive a lot of the decisions.  Looking at that, the question is really:
  6. How do we fix the jobs, status + consumption problem?  And once we sort all that out, (and because we need a grand vision for the end game):
  7. How do we relax and get back to making art and living great lives?

Meta Problem: What Problem are we trying to solve?

In The Art of Game Design, Jesse Schell says:

The purpose of design is to solve problems, and game design is no exception. Before you start coming up with ideas, you need to be certain of why you are doing it, and a problem statement is a way to state that clearly. Good problem statements tell both your goal and your constraints.


Very often, collaborators will be trying to solve quite different problems and not realize it if the problem hasn’t been clearly stated.

Let’s apply this to the Fusion Energy League.  What problem are we trying to solve?

The Fusion Problem

At first blush, it seems simple.  The Fusion Energy League is here to solve “the fusion problem” - to bring about practical commercial fusion power as quickly as possible. 

But wait!  We don’t research fusion ourselves at the Fusion Energy League.  This is a social media platform.  That means our problem is really, “How do we support fusion scientists in bringing about practical commercial fusion power?”  Or, “How do we support the Fusion Endeavor?” Let’s explore.

Problem: How do we support the Fusion Endeavor?

Solution: Develop This Fusion Energy League Platform

Reasoning:  This platform will connect fusion supporters to the fusion endeavor, bringing more resources to bear on the problem.  It will also foster a pro fusion culture and encourage pro fusion policy.

Actions:  Develop the fusion philanthropy app and the experiment tracker; generate support via social media; foster “fusion activism” that leads to policy change; promote pro fusion culture (games, film, food, music).

Resources Needed: collaborators (you!), cash (donate now!), board members, content, social media action, events.

The Problem with this Problem:  Uncertainty and urgency.  Many people who would be excellent fusion supporters are concerned with the energy problem, which they feel fusion may not solve - at least not quickly enough.  In light of the urgency of the energy+poverty problem, and the uncertainty of experimental fusion outcomes, the fusion endeavor is seen as a luxury. Worse, some fear that a push for fusion will come at the expense of other energy solutions: energy sources that work today to supply energy commercially.  This problem must be addressed head on:

P:  How do we solve the Energy, Poverty and Global Warming Problems?

More specifically, “How do we get a western quality of life for ten billion people with zero carbon footprint?

S:  Pursue fusion in Context with the broader energy+poverty problem.  Collaborate.  Build coalitions.  Make sure the problem is being solved.

Reasoning:  This problem is huge.  Ethically, we can’t waste any more time being “either/or”.  Given the uncertainty of fusion as an immediate solution to the problem, we need to do two things.

  1. make sure the push for fusion is covered with adequate resources as it may prove to be a dramatic and viable solution sooner than people think, and
  2. have a clear, collaborative and supportive policy toward other energy solutions.

Actions:  Collaborate with the broader nuclear and renewable communities to Pursue a Big Hairy Nuclear + Renewables Energy Goal (BHNEG) - a flat out push to eliminate fossil fuel in US by switching energy supply from resource to knowledge based energy

This action involves building coalitions with nuclear fission and other renewable groups.  The push for nuclear will include a strong pro fusion research agenda as part of the pursuit of advanced nuclear energy proposed by fission proponents.  (See Breakthrough Institute Study).  Why fission?  Isn’t that dangerous?  Not when you compare it to most everything else. See Pandora’s Promise.

But why renewables?  The currency of fusion is optimism.  Our expectation is that people are capable of figuring out the most difficult problems, including fusion.  If people are capable of figuring out fusion, then they are also capable of stunning improvements in conservation efforts, in solar and wind energy and so forth.  As fusion proponents, we can’t have an “Optimism Double Standard.”  That is not the fusion way!  For this reason, we will also be supportive of flat out push for best case solar/wind and other renewable solutions.  Go Germany!  We will be optimistic on behalf of personal best for all energy alternatives.  We will do our part to bring together a broad nuclear + renewables coalition.

The Problem with this Problem: Noise.  Whenever you work with people on energy issues, conversations quickly get polarized, attacks get personal, and it gets very confusing.  How does anyone get through all the noise to a clear energy signal?  Sounds like we’ve drilled down to our next problem.

P:  How do we clear up the energy solution noise signal?

We’ve been looking for ways to incorporate this question into our Fusion Energy League Platform for some time now.  Solutions include:

S:  Develop the “Fusion Experiment Tracker” and the Energy League and Brackets Campaign.  Also, Develop the NIMBY Game. 

The Problem with this Problem:   Don’t kid yourself.  Clearing up the information signal with rational information is a valuable contribution to the energy conversation.  However, the noise isn’t coming from people who are confused and can’t do a good cost benefit analysis.  Where there is noise, it often arises from conflict of interest (“COI”) – driven by a need for return on investment (“ROI”).  Folks have a vested interest in clouding the energy signal because they want their returns more than the most rational solutions to the problems.  Noise is an important tool in this fight.  So the real problem is: 

P:  How do I clear up the ROI/COI problem?

S:  Simple!  Transparency.  And Transition from capitalism to conscious capitalism. 

OK, not so simple.  I’m still drilling down on this.  Exploring.  Considering.  Balkanized utilities don’t help.  It seems to be a problem of the limited incentive structures present in Capitalism - the way corporations are driven by the single bottom line, profit for shareholders-  rather than a triple bottom line, people, profits and planet.  Luckily, many other people looking at this problem, an army of creative, intelligent people are exploring solutions in this regard. 

Action:  Collaborate with people who are working on this.  These include those developing Benefit Corporations, http://www.bcorporation.net/  expanding crowdfunding and crowd investing, and organizations such as the B Team http://bteam.org/  Explore these ideas in the energy sector.  Is it possible to turn energy companies into Benefit corporations?  Communicate this process to the public in social and cultural ways by, for example, developing a “Corporate Makeover Reality TV Show:  Energy Company Edition”

The Problem with this Problem:  A lot of people focus on this problem at the corporate level.  It is defined as a “Business” problem.  The structure of business is faulted.  But if you drill deeper, the problem really seems to be that the people who are in the corporations have a big problem that they need to solve, and that a lot of the problems with business - or the conformity with the single bottom line structure - arise from the simple need for people to have stability, status, and a growing income.  People who need to validate their worth and income.  In other words, it’s something between a jobs problem and a self worth problem. 

P:  How do I fix the Jobs + consumption + worth Problem?

This is at the heart of the conundrum.  We’re going to have 10 billion people, all of whom need to have access to resources, and validation.  We all need a role, a purpose, a claim to income, legitimacy, enfranchisement.  Some of us even want those mining jobs.  We end up jockeying for position on a heap, doing a lot of useless things, producing a lot of useless stuff, to keep ourselves busy and validated.  It’s not just corporations that cause the problems shown in the story of stuff.  http://storyofstuff.org People are complicit in this. 

How do we get to a world in which we aren’t hamsters on a wheel of consumption and status?  How do we transition to a world where we are in touch with the ones we love, where we follow our true desires (see Danielle La Porte) http://daniellelaporte.com , where we don’t worry about busy work and mindless expansion of consumption, but instead make sure everyone has the basics, and is on the road to genuine happiness.  I’m still pondering this one.  Inspired by Rob Reid’s book, “Year Zero”. 

The Problem with this Problem:
Once we solve this problem, there will be no more problems left, except, how can I procrastinate on my artistic pursuits? 

P:  How do I rest assured that all that is being taken care of so I can get back to my art and other concerns?

S:  Rest assured!  We are surrounded by many wonderful, creative and competent people.  Celebrate this!  Enjoy one another!  Collaborate!  Support others in their art, and Get back to your own art. 


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