I am often asked in my position as CEO of Arena Stadium Management what I do with my day. I go into the ramble about driving the strategic direction of our business and ensuring every staff member is supported to be able to achieve their goals and creating a culture and an environment where people can prosper. I do, do all that, but in reality I also do a lot of thinking. I study the data, the budget, and trends in the business to create a clear and compelling vision which will excite the “employee family” to follow. Much of my job is about thinking. In order to be successful one needs to be able to challenge the norm, be creative and find your point of difference, to think with clarity, imagination and vision, but have you ever thought about thinking?
Have you ever thought why you think the way you do? What drives you to accept one opinion over another? What kind of thinker are you? What drives your thought process? Are you making some fundamental errors along the way?
I am a great fan of Julia Galef, who is an expert on thinking, and her book “The Soldier and the Scout” has certainly taught me a great deal about it.
She describes what it is like to be a soldier. Your adrenalin is always flowing, you are in a mindset to protect yourself and your side (team), your actions stem from your training which are deep seated reflexes on what to do in a situation. I remember we did 3 months of basic training during my time in the army and then a further 3 months of intense battle-ready training. We had to be able to respond to situations under huge amounts of stress. We had a saying when we went into battle that when the 1st shots were fired all plans went out the window, but your training kicked in, and it did.
A scout however, has a different mindset and duty. He is not there to attack or defend. A Scout’s duty is to understand, to map the territory, identify obstacles and know what is really there. In an army both types of people are essential. If we think of them as a mindset and a metaphor for how we collect and process information in our daily lives, we can understand the importance of each a Scout and a Soldier play in any organisation or team. How we process information and ideas, good judgement and making accurate predications depends on your mindset.
These two types of mindsets are illustrated by the Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus was a major in the French Army. The French found that they had a spy within their ranks sharing secrets with the Germans when a torn piece of paper was discovered in a waste paper bin. They settled on Dreyfus being the culprit, mainly based on the fact that he was Jewish and there was a great deal of anti-Semitism in the French army at that stage. They compared the hand writing to the note and decided that it matched, although handwriting experts said it didn’t. They interviewed Dreyfus’ teachers who said he studied foreign languages, which they found convenient that he could speak German, that he had a good memory which was excellent for spying and on searching his apartment and finding nothing, they concluded that he was both clever and sneaky. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on the aptly named island, Devils Rock. Galef argues that this type of thinking that led to Dreyfus been imprisoned is a soldier mindset or motivated reasoning, where the investigators were motivated to get a result regardless of the evidence. She likens it to a sports ref making a call against your team and your resultant motivation to conclude that it was a bad call, or why if you read a research paper that is pro a certain stance that you do not agree with, your motivation to shoot down the findings.
Fortunately for Dreyfus, a Colonel called Picquant, who was also causally anti-semantic, noticed that even after Dreyfus was jailed the spying continued. He found a soldier who’s handwriting matched the evidence. Despite all his efforts, he struggled to get the army and his superiors to take his concerns seriously. He even spent time in jail due to disloyalty trying to prove Dreyfus innocent, which after 10 years he finally succeeded. Galef argues that Picquant is a perfect example of Scout mindset; despite his prejudices and beliefs, the facts and the truth were more important than his own opinions. She says the Scout mindset is what is required for good judgement. The problem is our mindset is based on an emotional response rather than logic. The Scout mindset is curious, open and grounded. The Scout wants to see what is real rather than what is convenient or pleasant or fits our agenda and beliefs. The Scouts mindset is not about our intelligence or IQ, it’s about how you feel.
Galef quotes the author Saint Exupéry where he says “If you want to build a ship don’t drum up your men to collect wood and give orders and distribute the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea”. Improving our judgement as individuals or societies requires us to change the way we feel. We need to be proud to be proved wrong and have learned from that experience rather than use everything we can to shoot down the evidence or find conflicting research to uphold our beliefs.
She asks a simple but profound question, “What do you yearn for?”
Do you yearn for seeking to uphold your own beliefs or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?
I invite you to think about thinking.