This SAM framework is the book’s key contribution Outward Mindset.
Arbinger notes the “slowness” of mindset work as compared to direct approaches to modifying behavior. They present the story of a longstanding labor-management dispute which found the Arbinger team working with 20 management leaders and 10 labor leaders for two days to understand mindset – training both sides to see the other’s needs, challenges and objectives, making adjustments and measuring impact. Afterwards, the Arbinger team observed, “Two days spent working on changing mindsets enabled the leaders to accomplish in 45 minutes what they had been unable to solve in six months” (p. 113) and they did so by themselves!
Behavior modification can improve action; but focusing on mindset alters context, presenting new, previously unseen possibilities for action. Without an awareness of mindset, we are doomed to repeat entrenched patterns with only slightly improved behaviors.
The remaining five strategies support this framework.
Don’t wait for others to change. “Ironically, the most important move in mindset work is to make the move one is waiting for others to make” (p. 95). Focus on view and action will follow.
Mobilize your team or organization to achieve collective goals. Here the authors want us to see that to sustain our focus outward requires a collective result such as the needs of one’s manager, customers, peers and direct reports. They offer the example of the San Antonio Spurs, whose collective purpose demands working together to win championships.
Own your work. Directly stated, we are to own our plans, actions and impact, and require others to own theirs. Here we are asked to step up by taking on a new level of responsibility to bring the whole self – thinking, planning, speaking and action – to every task or situation.
Eliminate unnecessary distinctions that create distance between yourself and others. Here the authors reach back to some of their best work from Leadership and Self-Deception, reminding us that when we do look outward we should not regard others as objects. Viewing and managing others as objects creates unnecessary distance or “distinctions” between our self and others, which we then codify through privileges and “leadership trappings” (pp. 135-6). This strategy, as defined in chapter 14, seemed a little contrived and disconnected. The focus on “distinctions” distracts from the potency of the original object-focus insight, which is important and deserves more attention: that once we relate to anyone as an object, we’ve separated ourselves and begun ranking ourselves above others.
Turn systems and processes outward; create an organizational ecosystem that energizes people rather than treating them as objects to be managed.
Outward Mindset avoids distinguishing mindset from skill-sets or hidden beliefs; it opens us to mindset as a meta-focus: a focus about the way we focus on situations. The authors distinguish between inward focus on the self, and outward focus on caring for others. Defining it as a practice suggests that it can be cultivated.
Arbinger’s take on Mindset
At times, however, the book appears disconnected, offering an excess of short stories that seem to interrupt rather than illuminate its concepts. Some of the stories border on glib solutions or resemble commercials; it might have been useful to highlight key capabilities that offer access to the outward mindset.
Specifically, two critical and challenging capabilities required to effect the outward mindset are ‘taking action to initiate change’ and ‘deep listening.’ Both are given short shrift in The Outward Mindset. The authors cite Brenda Ueland’s Tell Me More: On the Fine Art of Listening, which remains a valuable must-read on listening.
Still, this latest effort by Arbinger contributes to the literature on mindset and its applications: the SAM framework can impact change, ownership and collaboration. Outward Mindset extends the conversation, and adds to established thinking and approaches that include Carol Dweck’s fixed (static) and growth (dynamic) mindsets; Peter Senge’s mental models and system thinking (Fifth Discipline); Robert Kegan’s and Lisa Lahey’s mental complexity (Immunity to Change), Otto Scharmer’s ‘blind spot’ and generative listening (Theory U), and Bill Torbert’s action-logics, as well as Chris Argyris’ single- and double-loop learning.
Decades ago, Southwest Airlines’ beloved CEO, Herb Kelleher, noted that he hired for attitude and trained for aptitude. Outward Mindset offers a way to shift attitudes toward meaningful, effective action, as a matter of practice, not chance.
Reading Time: 6 min. Digest Time: 8 min.
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Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group, which serves coaches, educators, and learning professionals and executives.
As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, Tony’s work explores the human side of change by bringing wisdom to learning. His focus includes ontological inquiry, Integral meta-theory, and Buddhist psychology to sustain contemplative practice.