How important ideas work

There are a few sites that I read, or try to read, regularly.

RSS feeds have been valuable here — while Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn are governed by multi-layered algorithms which choose to display content for me based on how other people in my network are reacting to that content, RSS feeds are beautifully dumb.

They just display content in reverse chronological order, as they’re published, from the list of websites you want to follow.

For big media sites like the BBC or the Irish Times, this wouldn’t be so helpful, but for smaller, more niche websites, it’s a lovely experience, so much more relaxed / less stressful than the general flow of the Internet and social media, with its relentless moving elements and advertising and psycho-emotional manipulations.

You can group your RSS feeds into categories, and browse through them at your leisure.

This is what one of my RSS feeds, Tech and Culture, looks like:


The best thing that can be said about reading is that it makes you think differently. Making you think differently, it changes your mind on something, and when you change your mind, you can change your life.

The top item here, “When The Magic Happens”, made me think differently today.

It starts with:

This is a story about when big innovations happen.

Not how, but when. And to some extent, why.

Hopefully you find it counterintuitive at first before it quickly seems obvious. That’s how most important ideas work.

The piece goes on to discuss the invention of cars and airplanes, and how for years, decades, after those inventions, the key use for cars and airplanes was military.

Few saw a plane and said, “Ah-ha, I can use that to get to my next vacation.”

What they did say early on was, “Can we mount a machine gun on that? Can we drop bombs out of it?”

But let’s rewind to one line above:

counterintuitive at first before it quickly seems obvious. That’s how most important ideas work.

This is important.

I know that counterintuitive decisions have made a big impact in my life.

Lots of people advised me against removing all dairy from my diet, because of the protein and the calcium that we so readily get from dairy products.

But my mental and physical health improved within two weeks, and more than three years later, I’ve no intention ever to go back.

When I left my last full-time job in late 2016, for a while it felt like I was rudderless, failing to match up with the great mass of people who were productively working jobs for big and small companies. But by accident — counterintuitively, for sure — that mostly involuntary decision has led to a series of the most incredibly liberating, horizon-broadening learning experiences of my life. I feel like I’ve achieved more in the past three years than I did in the previous 13.

A couple of thoughts that are moving around my mind that seem counterintuitive, but could in time seem obvious.

For one example, depression.

My counterintuitive thought is that so much of what’s given the name “depression”, and treated with medication, usually expensive and often over a prolonged period of time, is a development in medicine which is designed more to increase the profits of drug companies than to treat people’s depression. This thought is provocative to many, but who’s to say that in the future depression will not be a much smaller and less common condition which can be effectively dealt with by medicines or treatments that many would consider crackpot now. (Such as magic mushrooms…)

For another example, mortgage finance.

In a world where more and more people will be able to work from anywhere, will there be any wisdom in picking up debt for three or four decades for a place that keeps you in the same place?

For a third example, the economy, and economic growth.

Economic growth is spoken about in uncritical terms, as if economic growth is the only worthwhile way for a country to be. But what if economic growth is actually bad for the majority of a country’s citizens?

All of these thoughts are no more than mental experiments, to be questioned and teased out.

But asking questions helps us to see, think and live differently.

So, where in my life are there other things that seem counterintuitive, but when I open my mind and think differently it could be life-altering in a wonderful way?

How about in yours?