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What problem do you want to solve?

That is the question to consider when pondering your future

Illustration of a head with clouds and landscape inside it
January 08, 2020

Written by Jaime Casap, chief education evangelist at Google and ASU alum

“So kid, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

The question has been passed down from the beginning of time.

When I think about that, I imagine a 10-year-old in the 1700s brimming with pride and answering, “I’m going to be the best wheelwright in the world!” (Look it up.)

While this question helped us think about our future, it is no longer useful or relevant. We are at the beginning of the digitalization economy, and we can’t even imagine the type of work that will require. Change happens gradually and then suddenly, and you, my friend, are living in “suddenly” times. The jobs of the future do not exist today. Digitalization is also causing jobs to shift and change like never before. All roles will be impacted by automation, robotics and digitalization.

So I have three better questions for you to answer.

1. What problem do you want to solve?
What is the problem you want to take on? It doesn’t have to be a social problem like climate change, for example — it can be any problem. If you don’t know, that’s OK. Start the process of thinking about it. Search deep enough and you will discover patterns about what motivates you or what gets you excited.

2. How do you want to solve that problem?
There are a million ways to undertake a problem, so how do you want to use your gifts and your talents? If you tell someone you want to solve climate change, for example, they might suggest becoming a scientist or policymaker. However, that may not be where your talents are. Maybe you are a remarkable photographer, and the way you solve climate change is by documenting its impact on human life.

3. What do you need to know to solve that problem?
What are the knowledge, skills and abilities you need to take on a problem like climate change? What do you need to learn? You could study biology, photography and sustainability. When you do this, you can see the type of classes you should be taking. And even if you already have a degree, you can see the classes you need to keep taking because we live in a time where lifelong learning is essential.

Illustration of photos

These three questions line up nicely with what my Twitter friend Daniel Pink wrote in his book “Drive” regarding what motivates all human beings. It’s the same three things — purpose, autonomy and mastery. What problem do you want to solve (purpose)? How do you want to solve it (autonomy)? What do you need to learn to solve that problem (mastery)?

One of the many reasons why I love Arizona State University is its focus on solving the world’s problems. Its size, scale, programs, areas of research, areas of study and partnerships tackle almost any problem you define. If you bring an issue to ASU, you can connect with a person who can help.

So don’t worry about what you want to be when you grow up. Spend time thinking about the problem you want to solve and then utilize everything you’ve got to take on that problem and change the world!

Jaime Casap, ’93 MPA in public administration, is the chief education evangelist at Google. He evangelizes the potential of digitalization as an enabling capability in pursuit of promoting inquiry based learning models. He collaborates with school systems, educational organizations and leaders focused on building innovation into our education policies and practices. Subscribe to his YouTube channel at

This story appears in the winter 2020 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.