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Supercharging brains (and time!)

We’ve all heard of Einstein’s famous quote: “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and five minutes finding the solution.” 

Most will agree that starting with a well-defined problem is critical. But it begs the question – what happens next? What is the best way to the solution once you’ve got to the well-defined problem? And if you have one hour to find the best solutions to a well-defined problem, how would you use it?

We want to share a real life case study to help answer this and it starts with this particular well-defined problem:

“HOW TO CHALLENGE FIXED VIEWS HELD AROUND REFUGEE ISSUES TO SHAPE POLICY?”

To answer this, we took one hour and leaders from Bath15 (a group of x15 senior leaders from very different walks of life and not experts in refugee issues). Our challenge was to get the maximum value from one precious hour with this diverse group, to get to very real solutions to our question. These solutions were then taken to refugee expert Lucy Hovil, Senior Research Associate at the International Refugee Rights Initiative and Managing Editor of the International Journal of Transitional Justice.

We approached this like we always do – by going to how the brain works best. This meant briefing the group on the brilliance and bias of our innate thinking strategies (there’s 4 different thinking strategies in case you’re wondering) and new ways to use each of them – we know that by exposing our brains to the new and novel, it helps to create new neurons and form new neural pathways. We then put all four different thinking strategies to good use to expand people’s thinking and get their neurons firing! This included getting ideas and inspirations from areas of life that wouldn’t usually be turned to when answering this type of question. This being highly relevant for tackling an issue around fixed views, because our brains have a natural tendency to become fixed into patterns of thought and to return to tried and tested neural pathways. This can often be a really good thing as it makes us efficient, but can also lead us to become stuck in trains of thought without seeing other ideas and options.

The outcome? Here’s some headlines which may help next time you’re looking to challenge any fixed views on any issue:

1. SHOW ALL SIDES

Resist putting forward the counter points to a fixed view. Instead, deliberately start by showing all opposing arguments. Re-open conversations that have been previously closed down. Actively research opposing views to fully understand them and leave little room for unaired ideas later. Like a game of tennis, encourage people to be fully in one half and then fully switch ends to see the view from the opposition. Don’t hide away from, or push opposing views to the outskirts of the debate. Actively look for what holds opposing views together.

What this means for challenging fixed views on refugee issues?

It means researching views around refugees from a wider set of people – those who are involved directly, those who don’t want to be involved; across all sides of politics and across different geographies. It means outlining the diversity of opinion from the outset.

2. REVEAL THE UNSEEN

Just like oxygen, refugees are essential and connected to our lives, but unseen. To reveal the unseen, we must hear their stories. Draw out the missing stories and the diversity within these. Show how those stories are integrated into ours – ‘otherness’ is a familiar enemy.

What this means for challenging fixed views on refugee issues?

Pull out the unseen refugee stories. These aren’t single strand stories. These are multi-stranded. They give the backstory. They connect into other stories. Take Nadia Nadim’s story from refugee to goal scorer at Manchester City for instance.

3. ZOOM OUT TO THE BROADEST AGENDA

Recognise where the debate ties into bigger topics. Issues and ideas will likely be interconnected closely and overlap into other areas. Zoom out to see where the key points actually sit and what is underpinning and fuelling the debate as a narrow focus may be missing the other influential issues.

What this means for challenging fixed views on refugee issues?

In this case, the economy is not far from the refugee agenda for instance. Refugees and migrants who leave their homeland are relied upon by their family members who stay behind. The stakes are high. The families back home send their strongest and best. It probably helps explain why in the UK for example; migrant entrepreneurs are creating 1 in every 7 new businessesGlobally, 250 million migrant workers currently find ways to send $442bn in remittances back to their developing countries.

4. GET PROPERLY PERSONAL

We all know intuitively that the more someone can personally relate to an issue, the more impact it will have. As Roman Krznaric, Founder of the Empathy Museum (which currently houses the immersive exhibit which brings together stories from migrants and refugees who’ve made London their home ‘A mile in my shoes’), recognises “the imaginative capacity to step into the shoes of another person and look at the world from their perspective – is a deep psychological trait wired into our brains”. Also, seeing the journey of others shifting their views through their experiences around the same issue can be really powerful – especially if they share the same starting views.

What this means for challenging fixed views on refugee issues?

Getting properly personal could be anything that helps people imagine their life as a refugee. For instance, it could be an app where people enter their details and come face to face with their refugee counterpart. It could be an illustration of how few degrees of separation there are between any individual and a refugee (lives are far more integrated and interconnected than anyone might think). It might be a buddying scheme set up to share experiences between refugees and non-refugees or it might be getting people to imagine if they became refugees.

5. BELIEVE THAT CHANGE IS POSSIBLE

Expecting views to change is important. And they do. Deeply entrenched views and attitudes shift all the time – just look at attitudes to smoking, women getting the vote, or more recently opinions around plastic recycling. Challenging deeply held views requires stamina, consistency and hope. Encouraging people to look at the same issue from a future time and place can be invaluable.

What this means for challenging fixed views on refugee issues?

For example, encourage people to think about the world in 50 years’ time and imagine how the issues could change. Detail out the historical landscape around refugees to help place current attitudes into context. Draw comparisons with other comparable societal issues.

6. DISRUPT WITH NEW

Finally, if you really want to challenge fixed mindsets, then actively testing ideas in practice, conducting trials, completing experiments and developing prototypes is a very direct way of providing new evidence and building momentum. It’s finding evidence-based creative solutions.

What this means for challenging fixed views on refugee issues?

This could mean reviewing different solutions such as those seen in Uganda where refugees have been given small plots of land to build their homes and cultivate their own crops. Researchers working with the World Food Programme (WFP) found that for every refugee household in Uganda receiving cash aid from the WFP, the local economy was boosted by more than $1,100 dollars a year. Or it could mean reviewing trials such as those being undertaken by the UN Refugee Agency who are experimenting with social media monitoring to better understand host community sentiments as global events unfold. Or it could mean instigating new trials and approaches.

How to challenge fixed views?

So, next time you find yourself in a situation where you need or want to challenge fixed views, try this:

  • Acknowledge all sides of the argument upfront rather than arguing from a single viewpoint yourself
  • Find the hidden stories and make these explicit
  • Make the issue as personal as possible to the people you wish to challenge
  • Assume that change is absolutely possible and expected
  • Disrupt with fresh information and evidence