Julia Galef: Scout Mindset

What the world needs now, more than anything else, is a greater degree of rationality. And Julia Galef is on a mission to help us get there.

Julia Galef

Julia Galef

Short Biography

Julia Galef was born in 1983, in Maryland. She studied statistics at Columbia University, graduating in 2005. Initially, Galef continued an academic career, starting an economics PhD course. However, it was not for her, and she moved to New York and began working as a freelance journalist.

There, she joined the New York Skeptics and, with philosopher Massimo Pigliucci started the podcast, Rationally Speaking, in 2010. In 2015, Pigliucci dropped out and Galef continues as the sole host.

In 2011, Galef moved to California to join a group of friends who had secured funding to start the Center for Applied Rationality. It began its work in 2012 and predominantly provides training in how to think more rationally. She is currently its president.

Hang on, Galef is a Public Intellectual…
What has that to do with Management?

Everything.

Management needs to be more rational. It isn’t that there is no place for intuition. It is, however, because intuition only serves us well in situations where we have deep experience.

And in a rapidly changing world where technology, commercial opportunities, and social policy are evolving at a phenomenal rate, none of your really crucial decisions can possibly be based on deep experience. Nobody has that.

So rational thinking is your best strategy for sound decision-making. And that means eliminating bias and exercising the techniques of good judgment.

Soldiers and Scouts: Galef’s Brilliant Metaphor

Galef has a great metaphor for understanding two mindsets, or ways of approaching reality. These mindsets manifest most clearly when we get into discussions or arguments in which we disagree with the other person’s analysis.

Soldier Mindset

A soldier needs to fight to survive. They are therefore trained to be defensive and combative. And by the nature of fighting forces, they are tribal too. The Soldier Mindset is therefore one of feeling safest when we are certain, and fighting against an opponent to protect ourselves. This may be defensive or offensive in nature, but there is value in being right and defending our position – even if it means attacking the other person.

Galef doesn’t say it, but I will. How familiar is this in modern western political discourse?

Scout Mindset

Scouts on the other hand are not tasked to fight, but to gather information. Facts, data and evidence are valuable to a scout, as is objective assessment of what they learn. Consequently, scouts are open to re-evaluate their evaluation, based on new information. The Scout Mindset is one of curiosity and a desire to cut through bias and prejudice to get at the truth. There is value for a scout in testing long-held assumptions and beliefs, so for them, there is no sense of losing face if they need to change their opinion.

Mindset, not Intelligence

This is not about intelligence, any more than Carol Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindsets are about intelligence. It is about how we address the complexities of the real world.

If what you value is the certainty of a simple analysis, and don’t want to let a few rogue facts spoil a good story, then you have a Soldier Mindset. And those facts will, eventually, spoil your story.

If, on the other hand, you recognise that the world is complex and the decisions you make are neither straightforward nor familiar, then you may feel you need to interrogate the data fully, listen to different perspectives, and draw careful but provisional conclusions. These will stand until conflicting evidence forces you to re-evaluate.

That is the Scout Mindset, and it sounds like the basis of grown up management to me.

Julia Galef at TED

Here is Galef speaking about the Soldier and Scout Mindsets at TED, in 2016.

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