The Long Win, by Cath Bishop

The Scout Mindset, by Julia Galef

“Can I give you some feedback?” If those words make your stomach churn, or your heart sink, then Cath Bishop’s book is for you. The Long Win, subtitled The Search for a Better Way to Succeed”, can show us how to make the most of every learning opportunity, so that you can win even when you lose. We see how this can work in sport, in business and in education. As an Olympian, sport is of course Cath’s metier, but anyone who’s competed in sport knows that the pain of losing is deeper and longer-lasting than the joy of winning. Anything that can make it feel better is welcome. But most of us have no idea that even the ultimate win – an Olympic medal, say – can leave an athlete feeling lost and empty. How is it possible that achieving something you strive for, commit to for years, can feel hollow? Cath can explain that. She interviewed winners and losers at elite levels, as well as drawing on her own experience as an elite athlete and as a foreign office diplomat working in war zones. She translates the learning far beyond sport – unlike many athletes on the speaker circuit, she has experience in business as well as sport. Her book is full of examples and insight that change how you think about success and failure, and make you feel inspired, and unafraid, to learn.

The Scout Mindset, subtitled “Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t”, comes from different experience but is equally inspiring. It’s about reframing curiosity and knowledge. After all, thinking you know is a barrier to finding out. Julia Galef‘s work is about rational decision-making, and about how we can use empirical approaches to offset our biases. Of course we all know about unconscious bias, confirmation bias and the rest. What’s fresh here is that her approach is not so much a way of thinking to deal with all that as a way to engage with reality that can help. She contrasts a scout mindset with a soldier mindset, in which we reason and believe to fit pre-existing thinking and beliefs, consciously or not. Her engaging stories of true-life events which fell prey to soldier thinking span the centuries. Some may be familiar, like the infamous Dreyfus affair in France, about an actual soldier. Others, like the story of cholera and homeopathy in nineteenth-century England, are fascinating and, to me, new. Her analysis of Spock’s predictions in Star Trek is delightful. There’s also a challenge to test your own biases and confidence, or over-confidence. Then she shows how a scout mindset can help us see afresh. She shows how to apply this at work, despite the pressure to think positively and to project confidence. This is especially true in the worlds of innovation and entrepreneurship, where people are sometimes afraid to admit of anything less than complete confidence. With chapter headings like Coping with Reality, Motivation without Self-Deception and Influence without Over-Confidence, this section of the book is a handbook for the modern age.

These are both great books. The Long Win was chosen by the Financial Times as one of its best business books of 2020. The Scout Mindset came out in 2021 but Julia Galef’s podcast, Rationally Speaking, has been running for years. Cath Bishop uses her approach to work with business leadership teams. Julia Galef’s material  is on YouTube. Both deserve to be more widely known.

Books | April 2022