[Idea File] Search for the Obvious: See solutions, not problems

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Did you know a policeman in Utah invented the first electric traffic light? Photo via Horia Varlan (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Ever look at an object and wonder where the idea came from and who invented it? And then grow incredulous at the thought of it never existing in your day-to-day life?

I find I’ve been doing this a lot lately. Turns out I’m not the only one. The folks over at the Acumen Fund, who support entrepreneurs working toward eradicating global poverty, are well aware that most of us take the things surrounding us for granted. Inspired by the extraordinariness of the mundane, they’ve created Search for the Obvious, a website that encourages us to look at the world through a solution-based lens, rather than a problem one.

Here’s how it works: users submit photos of physical objects or services that have a) improved our lives in some way and b) reached millions of people around the globe. A team of judges reviews the submissions and chooses the best ones to highlight on the homepage. Items in the current montage range from the practical (toilets and traffic lights) to the campy (squeezable ketchup bottles and bento boxes) to the feel good (free hugs and voting). But that’s not all. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can harness your inner creative genius by generating awareness about an obvious critical issue. The most recent challenge, Sanitation is Sexy, yielded an impressive array of videos, tweets, print ads, and more.

The underlying hope of Search for the Obvious is that it will spark ideas to address poverty. For example, marketing flip-flops as affordable shoes for the masses? Brilliant. Sliding pay scale ambulances for the poor? Clever. The possibilities are endless. Now, just what can be done with cotton buds, drinking straws, thumbtacks and more?

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