Undersea Volcanoes from British Antarctic SurveyAs I was perusing the November 2011 issue of Popular Mechanics (via the Zinio app on my iPad, of course), I came across a brief item about the British Antarctic Survey and the discovery of some active undersea volcanoes in the South Atlantic Ocean. “New species have been found nearby,” reports the magazine.

I have always been a big fan of space exploration, but over the past decade or so I have become much more intrigued by underwater exploration. It’s not as sexy as the search for alien life or the quest for an answer to the origins of the universe, but it can be just as exciting — and probably have more practical applications in terms of things like health, energy, and the environment. Plus we don’t have to travel for weeks, months or years just to get in a position to make observations.

There are practical implications to this way of thinking that impact us in our businesses and our lives. It is easy for all of us to get enamored with the idea of solving the biggest problems that get the most attention from the media and the public.

But some of the best ideas, the most successful companies, and the smartest life decisions come from not looking at the stars but at looking around us. What challenges and opportunities are within easy reach? Figuring out how to make a battery with longer life may not get the same attention as finding the ultimate cure for cancer, but it may well have more impact on more lives over time.

As a society, it is good for us to have people tacking the biggest problems. And you or I may be the one to do it. But there are lots of great things to be done closer to home.