The Scout Mindset: Seeing the Evidence

January 5, 2022

Imagine you rule the world for a day and you’re going to solve one big problem however you see fit. Maybe you want to fix the immigration system, make health care more affordable, or reform our voting laws. How do you design a solution that works?

You might approach your problem with what author Julia Galef calls a Soldier Mindset: you’ve already got a solution in mind and now you’re a soldier on the battlefield, adrenaline pumping and ready to attack. If an enemy charges toward you with an opposing viewpoint, you’re prepared to shoot their information – whatever it is – down.

Or, Galef says, you might adopt what she calls a Scout Mindset. A scout is up in a tree with binoculars, assessing the landscape and piecing together the information they’ve gathered. Which version of you is more likely to solve that big problem?

Well, it depends on what you want to accomplish. But when it comes to complex issues that affect millions of people, we’d suggest breaking out the binoculars.

That’s because a Scout Mindset can help you understand an issue as it actually is, not as you assume it is. It can help you create an accurate picture of reality, Galef explains, even if that means facing some unpleasant truths. A scout is open to new information and looks at the evidence with curiosity. A scout stays grounded when grappling with consequential problems. A scout’s sense of self-worth doesn’t depend on being right or wrong.

A soldier, on the other hand, wants certain ideas to win and other ideas to lose. A soldier wants to use new information to their advantage or defeat it entirely. You’ll see soldiers doing a good bit of motivated reasoning, that is, taking in new information and making it fit existing beliefs.

That’s not to say we don’t need soldiers – someone has to take good ideas into the world and turn them into realities. But if your goal is to figure out what we should actually do to improve relationships between communities and police departments or rein in digital disinformation, a Scout Mindset is going to get you closer to the truth.

Something else to love about the Scout Mindset is that it’s not really about how smart you are or how much expertise you have. In fact, says Galef, scouting traits like curiosity aren’t much associated with IQ. Anyone can choose to step away from their assumptions, look at evidence from high-quality sources, and formulate an approach to a question or problem.

Check out Galef’s book, The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t, or learn the basics in her TedX talk.

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