The “two lenses” secret to solving every problem

Most of us want to make a positive impact on the world. That’s a good thing, right? When that feeling of wanting to change the world bubbles up inside us, where does it lead us? Does it lead us to become a member of an non-profit? To watch a documentary? Or maybe join a local meetup group?

Once you’ve become more deeply engaged with the issue, you might get really involved and start a Youtube channel about the topic. You might volunteer to help promote a protest, or maybe you even start a festival or a conference.

But there’s a critical mistake that most people make when considering their involvement in a cause.

It’s this: People conflate the effort they’ve made trying to change the world with the actual measurable impact they’ve made on the world.

It goes something like this, “I’ve been attending events, talking about this issue to everyone I know, posting about it on Facebook. I wrote a blog post about it. I painted a banner for the annual protest. I wear a T-shirt about it and read everything I can on the issue.”

This person is very engaged, and as it seems, they are putting in regular hours of work trying to change the world. Let’s not confuse all this effort with results.​​​​​​When we’re trying to change the world, all that really matters, is that we make an impact that is measurable in real world numbers.

The key question to ask is,“Where is the evidence that your efforts have made a measurable result?” Ask it of yourself and any social change project you are involved in.

During my 20 years of experience with environmental change, (and reading oodles of behavioral psychology books) it struck me that the most basic problem solving framework involves essentially only two principles: measurement and behavior change.

All problems are essential made of the real world matter: matter that is measurable. All solutions require the influence of human beings, which are governed by their own psychological behavior.

We truly cannot avoid the process of understanding the data about our cause, if we are going to change anything at all. We cannot avoid the process of understanding the drivers of human behavior, if we are going to change the actions of any human beings.

This understanding lead me to coin the term, the “two lenses” approach to social change. The two lenses approach means:

1) Your problem needs to be understood through the lens of measurement or data.

2) Your solution needs to be understood through the lens of behavioral psychology.​​​​​​​

If you aren’t already putting these two domains together as the ground zero of your social change strategy, then you have an exciting road ahead! Remarkable things will happen when you implement the two lenses.

It is kind of terrifying though that so many people, NGOs, cities, schools, committees etc haven’t even considered, I mean, have not even really ever thought about, their impact on their data, and how to optimize their strategy for human behavior.

For example, there might be some people at a college who start a committee to reduce waste, without ever considering to measure how much waste the college creates, or what the waste is made up of. They might design and distribute an educational flyer to students and staff without considering that pledges are one of the most powerful ways to solicit a long-term change in behavior.

They don’t know about the value-action gap theory, which has shown that there is no relationship between environmental education and environmental change.

Over years the committee will keep on meeting, and the flyers will keep on going out, with little to no measurable effect on the amount of waste created in the school.

This kind of scenario of ineffective action is what I’ve seen played out over and over again. It’s why I am so passionate about bringing data and measurement to the center of the creative process for making change.

If you’re not using the two lenses approach, changing the world is like trying to swim in lead boots.

How to implement the Two Lenses approach

1. Pick an issue you work on or care about deeply.

2. Research all the available data on that cause.

3. Brainstorm at least 10 specific behaviors that will shift the numbers on your cause.

5. Pick the one behavior that the player will need to make in order to make the most substantial change to the numbers.

6. Study behavioral psychology for change, (Fostering Sustainable Behavior is a great book as well as Influence and Designing for Behavior Change) and study gamification design to learn all the techniques you need to learn to know to make great ideas happen.

Watch my most recent webinar for more details and tips on this process.

Why does the two lenses approach work?

  1. Focusing relentlessly, and deeply, on data will unveil to you the”low hanging fruit” ideas that are easy to create change.
  2. A data-driven mindset will create a shrewdly effective strategy not tempted by fluffy or silly ideas.
  3. There’s nothing like a focus on numbers to reduce the impact of heavy personalities or loud voices within organizations.
  4. It will keep you focused on rationalism rather than emotional triggers or hype.
  5. You will optimize your strategy to take advantage of the motivational drivers that all human beings possess.
  6. Avoid making terrible mistakes in your communication style (that you can make easily) that can make your cause go backwards, yikes!
  7. Make your resources get a lot of change done, i.e. bang for your buck. You have limited time and money. You need to make the most change possible with your recourses.
  8. Open you up to new ideas and innovations you may never have thought of.
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You know what gets me really excited?

I think about the latent potential of these thousands . . . or even millions of people who are searching to have more meaning, to have more impact, and to have more positive influence. I think if I can reach them, and share the secrets I’ve learned along the way, such as this basic starting point of the two lenses, I could expedite real change in a big way.

I don’t want to tell you “how to recycle”, or to “ride a bike” or “go vegan”, I want to share with your the strategic tools you need to have the power to change whole cities, campuses, companies, and countries.

Your own special “change moment”: I want you to be able to get up on stage after you’ve been invited to speak (because your social change project was so friggin awesome!) and your speech goes something like this,

“I used to ride my bike, and I was careful not to buy a car. I thought about my own impact and thought I was doing a good job.

But then I started thinking about how I’d have real and measurable change across my whole city.

​​​​​​By looking at the data on car and bike travel, our team developed a strategy to cut car use by 10%. We found a way to influence the city, with a bike-share program, new bike-lanes, a bike repair station, subsidies for electric bikes, traffic safety changes and a community based social marketing for ride-to-work day.”

Now here is your change moment, “Now 4 years later, we have actually decreased car use by a massive 18%, preventing 523 million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.”

The crowd applauds. You can’t believe that you could have had such a big influence on the world. It was possible because you starting using the “two lenses” approach to problem solving. This process greased the wheels for you to ride the slippery slide of having one social change win after another.

Data is the soil for game design to sprout​​​​​​​. Data prepares the soil for gamification. Gamification techniques can add turbo boosters to your influence on human motivation. You layer them on to your strategy like Russian dolls.
I’ve been so inspired by the effectiveness of gamification design to make environmental change that I designed an online video course called “Save the World with Gamification”. It starts with the two lenses approach and builds on layers of gamification techniques.​​​​​​​ ​​This approach has rocked my world and opened up a whole new universe of opportunities for new work projects, creative pursuits and wonderful new social connections.

I hope you use this technique and have the same epiphanies I’ve had, and I’ll be able to one day watch you have your special “change moment” on stage.

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Find this kind of thing interesting? Join our community of world-changers and get access to my free resources that show you how to apply data, behavior change and game design techniques to your cause for the epic win.

Author: Katie Patrick is an environmental engineer and a designer. She helps sustainability professionals, entrepreneurs and civic innovators to apply powerful techniques in data science, game design and behavioral psychology so they can make epic wins in environmental and social change. She lives in San Francisco with her little daughter Anastasia. Sign up to for free resources to help you become a world-changing superstar.



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Katie Patrick

Environmental Engineer | “Fitbit for the Planet” Designer | Author of How to Save the World | Learn how to gamify sustainability at