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Brainfart's Principles of Thought

View Everything as a Feynman Diagram

Quantum physics is the greatest achievement ever in conceptual thinking. In this field two geniuses stand head and shoulders above everyone else: Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman.

Quantum physics is really all about tiny particles moving from a place or state (A) to another place or state (B). The big step to understanding it is to appreciate that there are infinite ways to get from A to B: some obvious, some ridiculous and some surprising.

Policy and strategy require the same mindset. Too often, the debate is reduced to Yes or No, Left or Right, should we stay at A or go to B?

In reality, there are infinite permutations and pathways. Like Feynman, you need to search out and then permanently hold your mind open to all those infinite possibilities.

Let’s say you have a debate about the NHS  budget. What you’re actually debating is how to make the NHS better. There are infinite opportunities for improving the NHS, and raising the budget may be one way of doing that. The key is defining the aim, and then exploring all the permutations. Now and again even the ridiculous ones can lead to an epiphany. 

Follow a Creative Lifestyle

The quality and creativity of our decision making is tied to our lifestyles and our routines – sleep patterns, daily habits, relationships, diet, how we consume information and so on. Great people can make terrible decisions in the wrong environment, while even seemingly mediocre people can conceive of amazing answers with the right environment.

Build a lifestyle to make you a more rational AND more creative decision maker.

Fish for the Win-Win

A large part of politics is simply swinging the pendulum; with areas such as employment rights or taxation levels being pushed back and forth, around a sensible equilibrium.

To leave something more permanent means looking out for the win-win. Win-wins are policies with universal appeal. That means policies that appeal to both left and right, rich and poor.  One of the best ways is to devise policies that do good but require no more or fewer resources.

Finding win-wins is an art form. It requires what the poet William Butler Yeats called Negative Capability. That is, holding opposing and contradictory perspectives in your mind’s eye, all at the same time.

Show your Working

Remember school exams? Even if you reached the wrong answer you could still bag marks by showing your working.

Showing your working means taking people by the hand. Explaining your journey, the choices, and the problems you are trying to solve rather than focusing on the outcome.

Your working enables others to scrutinise and understand your work. It is not just that democracy requires it, showing your working lets others cooperate.

Imagine you could go back in time and sit down with Mao, Stalin, or even Hitler at the start of their careers. Rather than look at their aims, instead, you could follow the steps in their thinking. Maybe there is something insightful or true in there. Maybe through dialogue and creative thinking you could find common ground. Maybe you could turn an evil plan into a constructive and good one.

Choose Trust

Trust is speaking your truths and keeping your promises. You cannot stand for every moral virtue. To do so would be exhausting, miserable and contradictory.

If you can only manage one human virtue (and that is plenty hard enough), choose Trust. Trust renders us mutually predictable to one another. Trust is reciprocal.  It allows us to cooperate. While being straight with people can make things harder in the short term, over time, it allows us to achieve our potential.

Trust  deepens relationships beyond what we could otherwise conceive as possible. It opens up pathways of thought we would otherwise never see. Choose Trust.

Celebrate the Small, not the Big

Humans are built to operate in small groups such as families or tribes, or even to act in solo.

Hence, the famous Dunbar’s number, which demonstrates you can really only have about 150 meaningful friendships at any one time.

We are designed to be guerrilla warriors, not single cogs in a billion-cog institutional machine: Think Erin Brockovich, tiny Finland’s military victory over the USSR and Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could.

When the biggest win, it is because they throw the most resources at the problem. When the small win, it is because they discover a magic in the small gifts they already have. The latter is what we define as progress.  

Embrace the HILC Mindset

Every organisation in the world has a behavioural blind spot for 'High Impact - Low Conviction' ideas.

Humans always struggle with uncertainty. Intuitively we just don't like it. We prefer the delusion of certainty, or something close. But uncertainty is a reality in our world. We cannot really be sure of much at all. A low conviction mindset is closer to the truth. 

Plus, we tend to think that the bigger the potential impact, the more conviction we need. This is not the case. In fact, the great advantage of HILC is the low conviction. Low conviction allows you to change your mind and to adapt freely. You can accept being wrong. You are not locked into making something work that turns out to be a poor idea. Egos and reputations don't have to get tied in.

And crucially, it defeats the delusion and expression of over-confidence - perhaps our most powerful and destructive behavioural bias.

Adopting a HILC mindset will lead you to a totally different path and set of answers.

 Don't start out excessively confident. Do start out excessively bold. 

Navigate and React

Many of the most popular short term policies are awful in the long run. The best long-term policies are often difficult in the short term. Mervyn King calls this ‘The Paradox of Policy.’

How on earth do you get round this? The answer lies in both navigating and reacting. Like a wily ship’s captain, you need to know where you want to go and how to get there. Then you need to wait for the wind and the right conditions, all the time adjusting; trimming the sails and plugging the leaks.

All it takes to blow the Overton Window open is a change in the wind.

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