I am happy to share this book review of the latest book by the Arbinger Insitute, a research and consulting institute for many in our profession. The review appears in the premiere issue of the Philosophy of Coaching: An International Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, published on October 1, 2016. The semi-annual journal offers a platform for thinkers, researchers, and practitioners to share and question ideas, methods, and perspectives. The theme for the premier issue is “A Coach Approach.”
BOOK REVIEW: Arbinger’s Outward Mindset, seeing beyond ourselves
Bob, the point man on his SWAT team, is called to respond to a volatile incident requiring bullet-resistant helmets and body armor. With eleven officers at the scene, Bob and seven others ram the front door, while three others circle back behind the house. Once inside the house, Bob is confronted with mayhem. Adults scatter; several mothers and young children are paralyzed with fear, and infants are screaming. Two male suspects reach for their guns and are taken down, and then there’s more screaming.
After the scene is secured, Bob walks into the kitchen searching for white powder; not for contraband to secure evidence, but for a more immediate need: Similac, a powder used to make baby formula. With babies crying, Bob, the most alpha male in the room, is focused on an outward need that can calm the mothers and quiet the babies. He begins mixing bottles and handing them out to the SWAT team to give to the moms.
At the moment when it mattered, Bob acted on an outward-focused need that made a difference.
Focusing outward and on something bigger than ourselves, as Bob did, can shift outlooks and mobilize teams to engage in wholesale change.
Getting Out Here
The story of Bob is one of 38 vignettes in 15 chapters of The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves by Arbinger Institute. It builds upon the Institute’s previous books, Leadership and Self-Deception (2002) and Anatomy of Peace (2008).
The Outward Mindset is a timely read because the nature of change, itself, has changed during the past dozen years. Today, the pace of technological progress and globalization has outrun our ability to manage the ensuing complexity and uncertainty. Deeper anxieties govern our lives, and coping can seem like a struggle that never ends. To thrive requires deep work – horizontal and vertical mindset development – to cope with change and function in a collaborative manner.
Arbinger’s latest effort approaches mindsets by focusing on impact rather than core beliefs. Right up front in the preface, the authors assert “people often use the term mindset to refer to core beliefs about oneself. However, in our experience … the biggest lever for change is not a change in self-belief but a fundamental change in the way one sees and regards one’s connections with and obligations to others” (p. ix).
This newest effort opts for an everyday approach to highlight its six main strategies. Arbinger is adept at using accessible language and storytelling to break down complex ideas.
We begin with mindset
The book’s first seven chapters establish the limits of the inward mindset and efficacy of the outward-mindset pattern, which they have termed SAM (See others, Adjust efforts, and Measure impact).
The effectiveness of SAM is illustrated in Bob’s story, where a focus on another’s “objectives and behaviors to take others into account” (p. 30) can be seen to interrupt our reflexive tendency to turn in toward our “self- focused objectives and behaviors” (p. 30).
Chapters 8, 9 and 11 apply the outward SAM mindset, showing the shift from dwelling in our victimhood and resistance to becoming aware and open to discoveries. This framework is the book’s key contribution to the idea that outward self-awareness, not inward self-absorption, can shift mindset.