Soldier Vs. Scout's Mindset

A soldier seeks to defend his position, whereas a scout surveys and reports what is seen.

By the middle of the 1980s, Intel was struggling.

The once-powerful Silicon Valley giant had declined from an 82.9% market share in 1974 to a paltry 1.3% a decade later. Andy Grove, along with founders Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, knew they had a big problem, and Intel's board of directors was growing increasingly nervous.

“The fact is that we had become a non-factor in DRAMs, with 2-3% market share," Grove said. "The DRAM business just passed us by! Yet, many people were still holding to the ‘self-evident truth’ that Intel was a memory company. One of the toughest challenges is to make people see that these self-evident truths are no longer true.”

So Grove posed a question to Noyce and Moore in a meeting: "What would a new CEO do if we were ousted?"

Immediately, all three men knew they needed to shift the company’s overall direction.

The question Grove asked is called the “Outsider Test.” What would someone see from the outside that those living on the inside choose to ignore?

In her wonderful book “The Scout Mindset,” Julia Galef discusses the “Outsider Test” and how we can improve our judgment when we view problems from a scout's standpoint, instead of with a soldier’s mindset. What is the difference?

A soldier seeks to defend his position, whereas a scout surveys and reports what is seen. Those are two vastly different viewpoints, and by posing the question peeking from the outside, Grove shifted Intel from a soldier's mindset to a scout’s.

Galef believes that one of the biggest downfalls in shifting from soldier to scout is a bias called motivated reasoning, in which people filter out any information that goes against what they believe. When faced with a particular conclusion, people might then work backward and find various ways to support that conclusion while ignoring evidence that supports alternatives. This cognitive bias could also manifest as changing one’s opinion to match what one expects a social group would believe.

As leaders, we need to always ask ourselves when faced with decisions: Are we a scout or soldier? Then ask, what would the new person do?

These two questions are the first steps to making better, non-biased choices.

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