Framework for productive discussions

0) Principles:
Include a primer that would encourage resolution. Define the scope of what you’re attempting to resolve, and what you’re not. E.g. Edward Heath (British Prime Minister 1970–1974) on Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the European Union: “Go for the essentials in a problem. The essence.”

1) One side’s stated wants:
Ultra high-level recap. Max three bullet-points. What do they want? What are they trying to achieve?

2) The other side’s stated wants:
Same for the other side: What do they want? What are they trying to achieve?

3) Any common ground and points of shared interest:
Reconcile 1 and 2.

4) One side’s chronology:
An “executive chronology”. A brief, bullet-point overview of what has led to the dispute/tension. Make the argument boldly and forcefully from this side’s perspective. Put forward their best case. Each assertion ought to be hyperlinked to a source – preferably primary.

5) The other side’s chronology:
Ditto.

6) “Inversion”:
The late Charlie Munger proposed the concept of “inversion”; to help give clarity to a problem, invert it. If the opposite thing had happened, what would it look like? Considering this can sometimes enhance empathy. What would the opposite of the present scenario be?

7) Conspiracy:
We don’t advocate these views, but they’re sufficiently interesting and thought-provoking, we don’t wish to dismiss them. Very brief inclusion. No chronology should be considered complete without at least mention of alleged surrounding conspiracy.

8) Solution menu:
What are all of the conceivable ways this could be reconciled? An exhaustive list ought to be compiled. Include a full spectrum of options, including near unconscionable paths forward. Why? Without doing so, conflicts tend to veer to the unconscionable – in an unintended way. Decision-makers ought to beware that by rejecting moderate (though unpalatable) options, they are often choosing unconscionable routes, unwittingly.

Include “dumb” suggestions. In foreign policy, there are not nearly enough naïve ideas put forward – which in any other creative arena, are known to be the kindling of great ideas.

Encouraged in advance:

By no means are unconscionable or “dumb” paths being advocated. But make a full list. It’s only by pushing the bounds of thinking, and compiling a genuinely exhaustive list, that we free ourselves to think. Pushing to be exhaustive allows for the sparking of as-yet unrecognised ways forward, and the formulation of atypical, creative solutions.

9) Proposed solution:
Of all options, which is preferable? Make a short case for it. Keep in mind: the solution can be a person. Who is best-placed, if sufficiently empowered, to help resolve this? (E.g. Turkey’s Foreign Minister mediating between Ukraine and Russia.)

10) Loose ends:
Details still to be figured out – but that can be, after mutually agreeing a broad strategy.

11) Conclusion:
A final recap.

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This is the structure in which we consider intelligent foreign policy discussion ought to be conducted.

Google Doc of this framework here to get started. (While logged in to a Gmail account, click File → Make a copy.)

 

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