Look for New Ways to Solve Old Problems


By Takashi Yogi


           I bicycle to work daily from Live Oak to BC Tech on the
      westside.  The  quiet stretches of my route along the San Lorenzo
      River and Delaware Avenue allow me to think about problems in my work
      as a medical electronics engineer.  I often have to evaluate
      electronic circuits to determine why they are not working well and
      how they could be improved.  This analysis typically looks at the
      arrangement and interconnection of components rather than separating
      good ones from bad ones.  I often say to myself, "There must be a
      better way to do this."  I have spent over 50 years examining
      failures in everything from toasters to computers.  After repairing
      thousands of these, I have found that most failures are
      not random, but inherent in the design.
           I tend to look at the world with my perspective as an engineer.
      I see tremendous waste of resources and human lives in hunger,
      poverty and war.  As I pedal along, I ponder the failures and search
      for alternative designs for the world.  I see the great blue herons
      in the San Lorenzo River and ask why our societies cannot function as
      well as this bird.  I see people on River Street waiting for work and
      ask why this is so.  I occasionally get stuck in my car on Highway 1
      and have time to think about the colossal failure of this design.  I
      read about school budget cuts that eliminate sports and music
      programs and ask why our children are not our highest priority.  What
      makes me sad and a bit angry is that we have the material resources,
      the technology, and the people to find solutions to these problems. I
      am convinced that with innovative designs, we could eliminate
      poverty, hunger, homelessness, pollution, and war, and find solutions
      that will last forever.
           I got a glimpse of possible solutions when I traveled to Cuba as
      part of group that took pianos to the schools and repaired the broken
      pianos.  Cuba has difficulty getting new pianos due the US blockade.
      However Cuba has excellent schools where children can get free piano
      lessons or violin lessons.  Cuba also provides free medical care for
      everyone.  I visited a medical school that provides free education
      not only for Cubans, but students world-wide, including some from the
      US.  So there are plenty of doctors in Cuba, and enough to send to
      needy regions of the world.  I saw a psychiatric facility that was
      clean and cheerful, and the residents were engaged in sports, crafts,
      and music.  Another example  of  innovative thinking comes from
      Curitiba, Brazil, where planners restructured the city to provide
      transportation, affordable housing, parks, and recycling.  They
      converted a slum built on a flood plain into a park and moved the
      people to affordable housing on higher ground.  Poor people are paid
      to do recycling and are given bus tokens for their work.  Buses run
      on dedicated lanes and are so fast and frequent that the majority of
      the people ride the bus.  All this was done with minimal funding and
           We can sometimes negate solutions to problems by thinking that
      the process is a fight for power, where one side wins and the other
      side loses, or a compromise is reached where both sides are equal
      losers.  Marshall Rosenberg, who developed Non-Violent Communication,
      points out that we all have roughly the same needs, such as food,
      shelter, security, but our strategies for meeting those need are
      often in conflict.  Once we accept the validity of each other's
      needs, we can explore many ways to satisfy those needs mutually.
           When I encounter an electronic circuit that doesn't work, I
      sometimes abandon the design and start over.  Radical changes may be
      needed instead of minor adjustments.  Sometimes a faulty design
      causes a part of the machine to fail.  Simply replacing the part will
      not solve the problem because the part will eventually fail again.
      Similarly, social problems call for critical evaluation of the
      results of our policies.  Perseverance can work against us if we are
      headed down dead-end paths.  If at first you don't succeed, perhaps
      you need to try something different.
           The world is changing rapidly.  Globalization, energy, poverty,
      and population  are some of the issues that are imperative.  Will we
      persist in traditional solutions:  more weapons, higher walls, more
      police, better locks?  Will we fight over the last barrel of oil?  Or
      will we dare to try new ways to meet the needs of all people?  We
      have tremendous resources available today.  Will we continue to
      squander those resources as we have in the past, or will we use those
      resources to create an abundant and sustainable future for everyone?

      Takashi Yogi

Published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 4-29-2007