Refining an Idea

What is the best way to refine an idea once different theories and ideas have been developed? Oftentimes, once a theory has been discovered and defined, it is necessary to continue to refine the idea by putting the idea through trials.

What types of trials?

Well, I have found one of the best ways is to think “what would someone opposed to this idea say to me if we were having a conversation?” This is a great exercise because it helps to cultivate empathy, understanding, and an ability to take different sides in a debate. This is one of the first tests you should apply to an idea whenever deciding a course of action.

For example, John is trying to decide whether his favorite restaurant is Chipotle or Panera.  John thinks his favorite restaurant is Chipotle but he needs to be sure. He thinks to himself “what would someone who loves Panera have to say about my decision?” That person might say that Panera has a great selection of soups that Chipotle doesn’t offer. John thinks “hmmm good point, but I don’t personally like soup very much”. Next, John imagines the other person saying “But John, you’ve never tried Panera’s soup!” John then resolves that he will try the soup at Panera next time he’s around the restaurant.

John has identified a hole in his theory that he needs to fix before he can move forward. Through this process, John can try to strengthen his position by identifying weaknesses.

Obviously this is a simple example but, through using simple means, we can understand more complex ideas.

Let’s take this to another step: Syrian refugees.

John thinks Syrian refugees should not be allowed into the United States. He thinks they are a risk to American national security. Using the skills he learned when dealing with restaurants, he decides to think about what his opposition might say. John imagines someone saying “John, have you met any Syrian refugees?” to which John would be forced to concede that he has never met an actual Syrian refugee. The opposition might answer and say “How do you know if they’re dangerous if you’ve never met even one?” John begins thinking about answers but realizes that the best way to answer this question would be to volunteer his time at a local organization that works with refugees. After a weekend of volunteering at a local non-profit helping recently settled Syrian refugees, John has strengthened his belief system and can now hold a debate from a more enlightened and educated position.

Take note that, in many cases, plugging holes in your ideas involves physical action. In many cases I have found that the hole in a belief results from not having experienced an aspect of the opposition’s argument. By taking action and having that experience, theories and ideas become stronger.

Does this solve all problems? Definitely not but it can help to identify weaknesses in your ideas and theories. Once identified, the holes can be plugged and the theory can be made stronger.