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.

Controling Methane

cowThe Obama Administration has unveiled new plans to cut methane involving oil and gas production, landfills, and cattle. Targeting methane makes sense: it is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

Policies to capture methane from oil and gas production are particularly timely given the current natural gas boom. A recent study shows a large increase in methane release — with methane levels over Texas as the highest of any state.  The Japanese are also developing technologies to use methane hydrate which also may result in increased methane release.

Cows are a major source of methane, both from manure and flatulance. HP researchers propose putting data centers near cow farms to use methane to power the center.  Others propose switching away from beef to other sources of protein, including rabbit production and kangaroo.

Methane is the classic bad news, good news story. It is really bad for the environment. It is also a really good energy source. Through better capture and reuse, we can avoid the problems and enjoy the benefits of methane.