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Book Summary – The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t

The Scout Mindset - Book summary

Everyone suffers from mental biases and blind spots. In this book, Julia Galef explains why it’s so hard to overcome our cognitive biases and how we can learn to see the world more clearly. In this free version of The Scout Mindset summary, you’ll learn how to develop a set of attitude and tools to see the world with more openness, curiosity and accuracy.

What’s the Scout Mindset?

There are now lots of research and books about human irrationality and cognitive biases.  Unfortunately, understanding blind spots and biases won’t make you immune to them.

Human beings often deny our mistakes and resist change. Yet, we can also acknowledge our flaws and errors, embrace change and be truthful with ourselves. The question is, when do we succumb to flawed thinking and when do we rise above them? What can we learn from our own successes and how can we multiply what works?

For years, Julia Galef searched for answers to these questions. In this book, she explains how we can use the scout mindset and tools to see things as they are instead of how we want/expect them to be.


In a nutshell, there are 2 ways of thinking: the soldier mindset and the scout mindset:

The Scout Mindset summary - The Soldier Mindset vs Scout Mindset

Soldier Mindset

The soldier mindset is like defensive combat. We may think that we’re being objective when we’re subconsciously defending our views and beliefs. We focus on fortifying our case and shooting down the other party’s points. Changing your mind feels like surrendering or being defeated.

We’re driven by directionally motivated reasoning, i.e. we decide what to believe based on our underlying motivation. Even if we start out with good intentions to find an answer/solution, we end up trying to prove that we’re right. If we want to accept something we ask, “Can I believe it?” If we want to reject something we ask, “Must I believe it? This is also known as the confirmation bias, denial, delusion, self-justification or rationalization.

Scout Mindset

The scout mindset is like making a map. The goal is to be as accurate as possible. At the same time, you know that a map is only a rough estimation of reality, so there’ll always be missing details or errors. When you uncover mistakes or inaccuracies, it gives you a chance to improve your map.

We’re driven by accuracy motivated reasoning. We ask, “is this true?” with a genuine desire to uncover the truth.


The scout and soldier mindsets are merely archetypes. In reality, no one adopts a 100% scout or soldier mindset, and we switch regularly between the 2 mindsets.

Julia Galef suggests that we intuitively adopt the soldier mindset because it’s instantly gratifying. Specifically, the soldier’s mindset serves 3 emotional benefits (comfort, self-esteem, and morale), and 3 social benefits (persuasion, image and belonging). You can learn more about each of these benefits in our complete version of  The Scout Mindset summary.

Unfortunately, we also end up sacrificing sound judgment or accuracy to make poor decisions that we may regret in future. We need to keep rationalizing or denying new information to sustain our belief, thus deepening our self-delusion.

On the other hand, the scout mindset helps us to see things more clearly and objectively. This allows us to better evaluate risks, see a wider range of opportunities, understand issues more deeply and address problems effectively. The earlier you develop an accurate map of the world, the faster you can take effective action to achieve the outcomes you want.

How to Develop and Thrive with the Scout Mindset

What does it take to cultivate and apply the scout mindset? Julia Galef breaks this down into 4 main sections in the book, with specific concepts and tools for each section.

To learn about each of these principles and tools in detail, do check out our 16-page version of The Scout Mindset summary. Meantime, here’s a brief overview:


To be a good scout, you must learn to notice blind spots, overconfidence or gaps in thinking. Specific approaches/tools include:

  • Knowing the signs of a scout mindset so you can examine/notice your own mindset;
  • Spotting your own biases or motivated reasoning by using various thought experiments to put yourself in a counterfactual world;
  • Using various methods to calibrate your confidence level (and avoid overconfidence in your knowledge or decisions).


It’s possible to satisfy the 6 emotional-social needs mentioned above without sacrificing clarity or honesty. Julia Galef explains how you can:

  • Cope emotionally without illusions (e.g. using hypothetical plans and silver linings);
  • Motivate yourself without illusions (e.g. only taking bets with positive expected value); and
  • Persuade others without false confidence or promises (by using 3 sets of strategies).


Don’t end up choosing between 2 bad options just because you’re too narrowly focused on what’s in front of you. Learn to step back and see the big picture and other options you may have missed. To do so, you need tools to:

  • Dedefine what it means to be “wrong” and overcome your resistance to change/mistakes;
  • Sit with your confusion instead of drawing premature conclusions or dismissing anomalies that don’t fit your pre-conceptions; and
  • Learn from disagreements. This is actually harder than you think since you must first sort through your mental-emotional tangles and intertwined beliefs.


Don’t let your self-concept or identity blind you to the truths:

  • Understand why simple beliefs or preferences can become a part of your identity, and recognize the signs that you’re holding a belief too tightly.
  • Learn to hold your identity lightly instead; and
  • Develop a scout identity (e.g. “I don’t make sense excuses for myself” or “I’m the kind of person who can embrace the hard truths.”) alongside your other identities.

Getting the Most from The Scout Mindset

If you wish to learn more about each of the 4 sets of principles and tools above for cultivating the scout mindset, do check out our full book summary bundle. This includes an infographic, 16-page text summary, and a 27-minute audio summary.

The Scout Mindset summary - Book summary bundle

This is an easy-to-read book, written in a conversational style. If you’re interested in more research studies and examples beyond what’s provided in The Scout Mindset summary, purchase the book or visit

Check out our summaries on “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and “Factfulness” to learn more about mental biases!

About the Author of The Scout Mindset

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t is written by Julia Galef–an author, researcher, podcaster and speaker. She co-founded the Center for Applied Rationality and has hosted Rationally Speaking—the official podcast of New York City Skeptics—for over a decade. She holds a BA in statistics from Columbia University.

The Scout Mindset Quotes

“It’s a lot easier to say you welcome criticism than it is to actually welcome it.”

“Intelligence and knowledge are just tools. You can use those tools to help you see the world clearly…Or you can use them to defend a particular viewpoint.”

“A bet can reveal how sure you really are.”

“Your ability to see clearly is precious, and you should be reluctant to sacrifice it in exchange for emotional comfort. The good news is that you don’t have to.”

“The scout approach…doesn’t require protection from reality, because it’s rooted in truth.”

“You don’t need to promise success to be inspiring.”

“There are lots of ways to change the game board you’re playing on so that you end up with better choices.”

“Most of the time, being wrong doesn’t mean you did something wrong. It’s not something you need to apologize for.”

Click here to download The Scout Mindset summary & infographic

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