Outward Mindset: Soft Like a Brick

Having an outward mindset in hard, complex environments help achieve more effective outcomes, more safely, more of the time.

By the Arbinger Institute | October 10, 2017

At Arbinger, we sometimes receive the question, “Doesn’t outward mindset just mean being nice to people?” Often, the question comes with the implication (or assertion) that being outward equals being soft, giving, yielding when perhaps we shouldn’t. And that, therefore, outward mindset cannot apply in hard environments where decisive, sometimes forceful action must be taken.

Oh, but it does apply.

In fact, having an outward mindset in hard, complex environments helps achieve more effective outcomes, more safely, more of the time.

Military and law enforcement provide some of the best examples of the effectiveness of outward mindset approaches in hard environments. Here are three books that illustrate, with real-life stories, what we mean.

Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley:

Left of Bang - How the Marine Corps' Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life

In this book on increasing your situational awareness, the authors draw on the Marine Combat Hunter Program to outline a methodology for making better decisions and taking relevant action more quickly. We see links in this approach to the outward mindset. By being curiously alert to the human realities in your environment (seeing people as people), one can rapidly pick up on clusters of anomalies which can indicate danger. Then with a \"bias for action,\" (taking action to adjust efforts), one can stay \"left of bang,\" or pre-bad event on a timeline.

General Stanley McChrystal, with Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell:

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

This book teaches the necessity of having high-trust, high-collaboration, mission-critical teams connected to other such teams with high trust and collaboration. These lessons apply to organizations of any kind, not just military. As the world grows more complex and interconnected, it is increasingly important to encourage small groups to experiment while enabling them to share what they learn with the entire organization. This fluid collaboration and sharing exemplifies an outward mindset culture. Sharing relevant information, in particular, illustrates an outward mindset: It means seeing our colleagues’ challenges, questions, and goals, and providing information that is helpful to them.

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin:

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

Based on the experiences of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser in Ramadi, Iraq, this book details the mindset and principles that make SEAL units successful in high-stakes, high-stress situations. The authors show how to apply these principles in organizational, team, and family settings. The stories illuminate outward mindset approaches, extolling the power of a deep sense of personal responsibility toward all who are impacted by our work and life.


These books are about how to succeed in high-stakes, high-pressure, often life-and-death situations. They come from hard lessons learned under hard circumstances.

And they exude outward mindset. They are filled with the importance of understanding others’ needs, challenges, and objectives in order to respond most effectively in a given situation. They are about personal accountability and humanity.

We hope these examples give a more detailed and nuanced picture of what it means to have an outward mindset. Being outward is seeing truly. Life is much more difficult and dangerous when the self-deception inherent in an inward mindset warps our reality.

To receive Arbinger’s best blogs by email, sign up for our newsletter.