The Philosopher-in-Residence Blog Series from Make Me A Plan's Principal Planner, Anna Pascoe

So in this summer of Pseud, this Philosopher-in-Residence is opting for blog topics that help us make sense of the ordinary by stepping outside of our day-to-day lexicon.

Just what are heuristics? A dictionary or internet search, or even asking a group of people, will probably give you a bunch of different answers – anything from a coaching tool to a mode of thinking.

The heuristics I’m going to be referring to today relate to what I describe as our brain’s default mode; what our instinctive and/or conditioned behaviour jumps to when a situation presents itself.

That probably still sounds quite woolly, so a few examples will be best and then, as ever, it’s over to you to reflect which apply to you and whether you might benefit from some conscious changes as a result.

The social media heuristic example

You see a status from someone. You roll your eyes because you think they’ve gone over the top/are vaguebooking/got tickets to their own show.

This is your brain using a heuristic. You are jumping to a conclusion without any real evidence. We’ve all done it, but none of us has to keep doing it. Be nice!

The everyday sexism heuristic example

Men get paid more than women. On average (any type of average). In all countries. For all types of work. Every culture. Since forever. And despite the best efforts of Make Me A Planel (our gender balance campaign) and the work of many, many others to raise awareness of the gender pay gap, there’s still that all-too-common heuristic jumping to the assumption that males are/should be the higher earners. We dislike this heuristic.

The hidden heuristic example

Humans like to follow the path of least resistance. Heuristics can be helpful to this end – helping us to find solutions to issues that crop up. But sometimes, we are believing that we are on the path of least resistance when actually a heuristic is giving us a false positive. This is a classic ultrarunner’s problem; following a path that looks most like a path when you’re unsure of the way (the heuristic popping out is that paths often lead somewhere and are things you should be running on) whereas the heuristic that would help is remembering when you did that on a different occasion and looking for a sign, a compass bearing or a map point that actually tells you where you are and from which you can orient onwards.

Next time you trust your instincts – ask yourself which heuristic propelled the instinct and sense-check its suggestion before proceeding. Let us know if you change course accordingly!

Next fortnight, I’ll be musing On Sentience – how does that make you feel?

Please get in touch with any particular aspects of this topic you’d like me to write about.


In the meantime,


Happy Planning


PS If you want some other free tips for your business life, check out the Working Well blog – out fortnightly on Wednesdays, courtesy of Make Me A Plan’s Productivity Expert, Penny Le Kelly. Browse the latest edition here:


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