Making a better future for the next generation in Michigan.

Scouting Out the Future

Nov 1, 2023 | Book Review, Future, Future Maker, Michigan | 0 comments

Remember the national debate about extending a COVID-era child tax credit of $3,600 for families with young kids?  Our representatives in Washington debated whether it would make life better for children, or if their parents would squander the money on hunting trips and illegal drugs — as one senator told colleagues. In the end, Congress was not willing to bet many billions of dollars to find out.

The future is like unexplored territory

It’s hard to figure out how a new policy will make a better future for the future generations. We want to make the best future for our kids, but there are always unknowns about how things will play out in the future. Should we tell our kids that a college education will still be worth the cost when they become adults in the 2040s? Will the job they train for be eliminated by artificial intelligence? How will they find affordable housing? That brings me to a book I am excited about. We know the future will be full of surprises and shocks. What Julia Galef calls the scout mindset can help us navigate through it.

The Scout Mindset

Scouts explore new territory, continuously building more detail into their maps. Their opinions are tentative because they often discover something new that makes them re-evaluate their ideas. They are eager to hear from others who can update their opinions with new facts. Scouts don’t measure their self-worth in being right, but by continually revising their maps to make them more accurate.

In many ways, the future is like an unexplored territory. We are constantly making bets on the future, but it’s too unpredictable to have fixed beliefs. We need to feel our way like a scout and lean into our confusion. Galef’s book provides a set of tools to probe it.

Signs of the Scout Mindset

I especially liked her chapters on signs that you have the scout mindset. They help you see bias in your own thinking. Here are paraphrases of some questions she suggests:

  • Do you tell other people when you realize they are right, and you were wrong?
  • Do you go out of your way to make it easier for people to criticize you and your ideas?
  • Do you ever prove yourself wrong?
  • Do you take precautions to avoid fooling yourself?
  • Do you have good critics who you respect?
  • Do you judge people who criticize your ideas by the same standards as those who support them?
  • If “new management” arrived, would they stay the course?
  • If people you identify with changed their opinion, would you change yours?
  • If new evidence supported alternative ideas, would you change your mind?
  • Can you quantify how sure you are about your opinion?
  • Do you prefer the status quo to other possible futures?

I like all of these. For future issues in our states, though, the last one is critical. For instance, on tests provided by the National Assessment of Education Progress in 2022, Michigan’s 8th graders were found to be just about average for the percentage of students who met at least basic math skills at 60%. It’s easy to get comfortable with average, but 70% of 8th graders in Massachusetts, Utah, Idaho, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming met the math standard. If it is possible for those six states to get an additional 10% of 8th graders to basic or better math skills, why should Michigan accept the status quo?

I recommend picking up a copy of Julia Galef’s The Scout’s Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t. It’s an easy read with lots of enjoyable stories to illustrate her points. I will be using it as a toolchest to think clearly about how states can develop in the future.

Other links:

Galef’s TED Talk explains the difference between the scout’s mindset and the soldier’s mindset.

If you want to take a deep dive, Galef also founded an organization called the Center for Applied Rationality. The Center offers books, videos, workshops – you get the picture.

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