Solving big problems

“Solving big problems is easier than solving little problems”
- Larry Page

This statement sounds totally counterintuitive. Lets take a prosaic real world example - is building a big house easier than building a small house?

Most people would argue no, but it depends on the lens we use to look at the problem.

What Larry Page was alluding to was that by solving big problems you get the following benefits:

  1. A big problem is likely to be solvable in many ways, as opposed to a narrowly defined problem of much smaller scale.
  2. People get excited about solving big problems - this helps attract and motivate the best people.
  3. Big problems often lead to larger potential markets, making them more lucrative to solve. For this reason they are likely to attract greater investment.

On the flip side of the coin are small problems, and the major problem with these is that at some point you’ll ask yourself ‘is this problem worth solving?’ This is a really difficult question to answer and can lead to much hand wringing.

This uncertainty can be the enemy of progress. You might go away and do some market research, or follow the lean startup principle and launch a MVP and see how people respond.

None of this is as important when you set out to solve a big problem, because lets say you set out to organise the world’s information, as in the case of Google, I don’t think at any point there would be a crisis of confidence where you would think to yourself ‘is this something worth doing?’

This shouldn’t be underestimated, especially when trying to convince others that you’re doing something worthwhile, and if you’ve quit your job to pursue the idea.