Novel Uses of Color

colorsWe often think of problems being addressed through creative strategies or innovative design. But what about the novel use of color?

Here are five good ideas that apply the use of color in inventive ways:

1) Measure Pulse by Webcam

Scientists at MIT are able to measure someone’s pulse by watch for minor variations in their facial color by webcam. The presages many other types of remote medical monitoring. NY Times best idea 2010 

2) Food Wrapping Which Detects Pathogens

Canadian meat wrapping materials turn color in presence of certain pathogens. A NYTimes “best idea 2007″ winner.

3) Make Roads White

Black roads can increase the temperature in cities by tens of degrees – requiring more air conditioning.

4) Chameleon Camo

ColorPhase Camouflage has ink which changes color in different seasons, improving effectiveness. Popular Science Innovation 2013

5) Change Exit Signs to Green from Red

American Exit signs are red and say “exit”. Signs in most other parts of the world are green and show a man running. The international signs don’t require English, are universally recognized, and are safer during an emergency. Slate

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

Ranking Good Ideas at the United Nations

Copenhagen Consensus CenterThe United Nations (UN) in 2000 established eight Millennium Development Goals to help guide and focus global efforts to reduce poverty through 2015. With the final date approaching, the UN is now in the process of establishing a set of Sustainable Development Goals to guide global development efforts through 2030.

The Open Working Group at the UN has received hundreds of suggested priorities to include within the Sustainable Development Goals. How should the Open Working Group decide which to prioritize?

Analysis and suggestions are being offered by the Copenhagen Consensus Center, an international organization that evaluates the effectiveness of global development ideas. The Center has issued a preliminary benefit-cost analysis, ranking 212 potential targets as “phenomenal”, “good”, “fair”, “poor”, or “uncertain”.

Which ideas come out on top? You can read the full report (PDF) here.

Five Important Ideas for Helping the Environment

One active category to date on Good Ideas has been the environment section. There are innovative and important ideas there that everyone concerned about the environment should be familiar with. Here are five that strike me as both surprising and consequential:

Don’t Reduce Traffic Jams

Traffic jams are actually good for the environment, mostly because they encourage short commutes and mass transit. Wall Street Journal

For Fuel Efficiency, Drop “MPG” For “Gallons Per 10000 Miles”

It’s true: “MPG” ratings don’t say much about environment impact (because big cars use a lot more gas, so a small change has big impact). We really should change how mileage is reported. NYTimes “best of 2008″ idea.

To Combat Global Warming, Forget About CO2, Worry About Methane

What?! Don’t worry about CO2? The rationale for this important idea is that methane has 75% of the impact of CO2 on global warming, but has short lifespan and is easier to contain. WSJ:

Don’t Worry About Car Pollution, Worry About Ship Pollution

The fact that a small number of ships produce as much sulphur pollution as all of the cars in the world is shocking (and a bit troubling). Ships burn dirty fuel. Shouldn’t this change? Daily Mail

To Combat Global Warming, Focus on Long-Term Interventions

Bill Gates makes a very powerful argument: short-term interventions to help the environment (the current target is 30% reduction of emissions by 2025) are possible, but not very meaningful. We need 80% reductions by 2050, which requires a completely different approach.

Feel free to vote or comment on any of these ideas on Good Ideas (you can click on the idea titles above to go straight to the ideas).

Light, Health, Cleanliness: The Remarkable Two Liter Bottle

pepsiMillions of two liter bottles are used in developing countries each year. Once the soft drink is consumed, there are still plenty of innovative uses for the sturdy container. Here are a few good ideas:

1) Light

A water-filled 2-liter bottle can replace a 50 watt light bulb. Used across Asia and South America. Awesome!

2) Water purification

A billion people drink highly polluted water. Treating water by putting it in 2 liter cola bottles and setting it in the sun on a black surface for 5 hours kills 99% of pathogens. One of the world’s truly great ideas. See

3) Water filtering

Biome Solutions describes how to make a functioning water filter out of a two liter bottle.

4) Hand-washing

A device fashioned from a two-liter bottle provides hand-washing for developing countries. A New York Times “best of 2008″ selection.

5) Transportation

The rRaft builds functioning boats from ~1000 recycled two liter bottles.

Wow – and certainly just a subset of the possibilities!

Good Ideas for Happiness

happyIs there a recipe for happiness? Researchers increasingly have looked at factors which lead to happiness. Here are seven provocative ideas:

1) To Be Happy, Earn $60k Per Year

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman points out the people earning less than $60k per year are progressively more unhappy the less they earn, but folks over $60k are all basically at the same level of happiness. My Money Blog

2) Move to Costa Rica

Costa Rica is chosen as “happiest country on earth” in 2009 Happy Planet Index.

3) Win a Bronze Medal

US researchers have concluded that olympic bronze medal winners are happier than silver medal winners. Silver = “almost gold”, while bronze = “almost nothing”.

4) Don’t Fight with your Spouse — Raise you Blood Sugar

Psychologists at Ohio State University show a correlation between spouse hostility and low blood sugar.

5) Add Lithium to the Water Supply

Studies in Japan show that lithium in the water supply helps avert suicides.

6) Grow Older

Researchers show that happiness increases with time, with sharp increases after age 50. NY Times

7) Global Orgasm for Peace

Synchronized annual global orgasm on Winter Solstice in order to “effect positive change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible source of human energy, a Synchronized Global Orgasm”. Seen at

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

Toilet Innovations

latrine2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to safe, affordable sanitation. For those that do have access, sanitation facilities are often bad for the environment. There is clearly a need to rethink sanitation — and to reinvent the toilet — for both developing and developed countries.

Here are five current Good Ideas relating to toilet innovation:

1) Reinvent the Toilet

Gates Foundation chooses three winning designs in their “reinvent the toilet” competition. Economist

2) Electricity from Human Waste

The Humanure Project in India uses biogas generators to produce electricity from human waste. Dell Social Innovation Challenge 2nd place (of 4000) 2012.

3) Turn Waste into a Resource

Project SOIL in Haiti installs composting toilets which promote both health and agriculture. Forbes

4) Safer Pit Latrines for $1.50

A plastic $1.50 retrofit on pit latrines blocks bugs which spread disease. Popular Science Innovation 2013.

5) Half-flush Toilets

Many new toilets have two handles or buttons for flush, one for a full flush and one for half a flush. This saves lots of water and helps the environment.

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

Are the World’s Best Ideas Hidden in PDFs?

The World Bank spends many millions of dollars on sophisticated policy analysis resulting in well-researched policy recommendations. Most of the information — data, analysis, recommendations — end up in PDF documents which are posted on the Bank’s site. Does anyone read the PDF documents? In a recent analytics review, the Bank found that nearly one-third of documents have zero downloads. Another 40% have been downloaded less than a paltry 100 times. Only 13% had more than a modest 250 downloads.


Congratulations to the Bank for analyzing these data and publicly questioning the value of PDF documents. Bank blog and Twitter accounts likely get more attention — but even there, the attention is fleeting. The good ideas have a moment in the sun, and then disappear.

More information is available on the Washington Post Wonkblog.

We need a better way to capture, archive, categorize, tag, rank, and share good ideas!

Paradoxical Ideas

boxSometimes the best ideas for solving problems are the exact opposite of what you might first think. These “paradoxical ideas” are useful to consider not only because they probably are effective, but also because they inspire us to think creatively and without preconceptions about a wide range of solutions.

Here are five that are particularly paradoxical:

1) Pay Alcoholics with Alcohol

A well-regarded Amsterdam program gets homeless alcoholics working again by paying them with beer. NY Times

2) Don’t Worry About Auto Safety

Why is there so much attention about auto safety and manufacturer recalls when nearly all accidents are caused by human error? Shouldn’t we worry more about that? NY Times

3) Don’t Reduce Traffic Jams

Efforts to alleviate traffic jams only encourage more cars and create more sprawl. Traffic jams encourage ridership on more efficient mass transit. Wall Street Journal

4) Forget About Global Climate Agreements

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu argues that we should expend less efforts on international treaties and more effort on bilateral discussions with China. The US and China combined create 40% of the world’s pollution. An innovative, aggressive, bilateral treaty will represent great progress, and encourage other nations to join. Wired Magazine profile

5) Never Punt 

Statistical analysis suggests that punting in football almost never pays off. Teams should never (or almost never) punt. Time Magazine

And as a bonus, how about this paradoxical idea?:

6) For Road Safety, Get Rid of Stoplights, Road Signs, Crosswalks

The “shared space” movement in Europe promotes road safety by getting rid of traffic laws, stoplights, road signs, and crosswalks. This encourages everyone to be careful and cooperate. It has been adopted in over 100 cities. Christian Science Monitor

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

Five Good Ideas for Making Elections Fairer

voteAs disenchantment grows with the electoral process in America, there are many excellent ideas for making elections fairer — some actively in use in other countries. Here are five:

Fewer Voters: Statistically choosing a subset of voters will make elections cheaper, lead to more informed choices, insulate against money politics, and allow for more elections and democracy.

Establish Redistricting Commissions: A politically neutral redistrcting commission, such as California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission, will make Congressional races more balanced and Congress more centrist.

Rectangular Districts: To avoid gerrymandering (with districts with long tentacles), require that all Congressional districts need to be rectangular (dimensions depending on population).

Adopt “Alternative Voting”: “Alternative Voting”, such as employed in Australia, allows voters to designate their first and second choices. If the first choice loses, your second choice gets the vote. This favors third party candidates and increased competition.

Bypass the Electoral College: A national initiative seeks to bypass the Electoral College and elect the President via popular vote. Without amending the Constitution, it calls on states to commit all electoral votes to the candidate winning the popular vote.


To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.