To Win in Global Markets, Learn to Think Like an Explorer

When your business goes global, you can find yourself in an unfamiliar world. You may be dealing not just with new markets, but entirely new societies, languages, and cultures.

Faced with so much change, you may find yourself tempted to double down on your existing ways of thinking—just when you need to be more open to new ideas and information than ever before.

At such times, you need the ability to think like an explorer: someone whose mission is discovery, not conquest. If you can develop that skill, you’ll become more agile and adaptable when leading your company into new terrain. But that may mean breaking old habits that block your vision, and building new ones that make it easier to see the world as it is. On an organizational level, your entire business may benefit from specific practices that encourage more explorer-like assessments and decisions.

Be a Scout, Not a Soldier

In The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Clearly and Others Don’t, author Julia Galef discusses how to think like an explorer—or to use her term, a scout. It doesn’t come naturally, she points out. We often feel we’re being open minded and rational, when we’re actually trapped in a “soldier mindset” that drives us to defend and validate our beliefs against any challenges.

To avert this pitfall, Galef argues for cultivating what she calls a scout mindset: “the motivation to see things as they are, not as you wish they were.” How can you apply this idea to your own thinking and business practices? As a starting point, consider trying a few ideas inspired by Galef’s work.

  1. Practice acting like an explorer, not just feeling like one

Even if you feel unbiased, it doesn’t mean you actually are. By practicing certain kinds of behavior, you can build more scoutlike habits and become more open to new ideas, even when they conflict with your own.

For example, ask yourself when you last took any of these actions suggested by Galef—and strive to do them more often at work:

  • Tell a colleague or employee when you discover they were right
  • Ask for feedback in ways that encourage criticism
  • Try to disprove your own ideas, rather than proving they’re true
  • Take deliberate measures to avoid self-deception (for example, by asking a third party to resolve a disagreement without revealing which side you’re on)

In a business context, you can take concrete steps to force yourself into scouting mode. For instance, if you want honest feedback on your brand strategy ideas for a new market, consider enabling people to submit anonymous comments rather than asking them to share their critiques face to face.

  1. Acknowledge uncertainty, even when you feel you’re right

False certainty can lead to errors and make it hard to learn from experience. Unfortunately, human beings tend to like the feeling of certainty, and we also face external pressure to be certain in our beliefs. As a result, we face a constant battle to avoid overconfidence in our own judgments and beliefs.

As an antidote, Galef recommends making a deliberate effort to think in a way that accounts for uncertainty. Don’t rely on how certain you feel about belief X, Y, or Z. Instead, try to guess how likely it is that you’re right, and test your predictions to “calibrate” your beliefs to reality.

Here’s one way you might put this idea into practice: When you predict a business outcome, estimate the likelihood that your idea is correct. You may believe your new idea for a marketing campaign will work, but how sure are you that you’re right? Ninety percent? Sixty-five percent? Or is it more like 50-50?

Next, record your prediction—and track the outcome each time. You may find you do better with some kinds of predictions than others. Over time, you’re likely to improve your habit of thinking in probabilities, not certainties, and gain a more realistic view of how accurate your own assessments are likely to be.

  1. Change your attitude toward changing your mind

Just as it feels positive to be certain, acknowledging error can feel negative. But by learning from the past, we gain the ability to make more accurate judgments in the future. The trick is to train yourself to embrace changing your mind when new evidence warrants it.

One approach Galef suggests is to reframe changing your mind as “updating your beliefs,” rather than “admitting you were wrong”. Too often, the latter can feel like an admission of guilt, as if you’d done something immoral or shameful.

Updating, on the other hand, is a skill you can practice and learn, without drama or moral judgment. The better you become at updating, the more confidence you can have that your understanding of the world is improving, even if it’s never perfect.

Let’s say the brand strategy you proposed has been implemented, and you want to evaluate how well your ideas performed in practice. If you head in with the goal of judging whether you were “right” or “wrong,” you may become defensive without realizing it.

Instead, try to lower the stakes. Focus on seeing where your expectations did or didn’t pan out, and asking yourself how you can adjust your beliefs to match the evidence. Whenever you make an update, congratulate yourself on getting closer to the truth. As you build this habit over time, you might even find yourself seeking out chances to update your thinking, rather than sticking to your existing beliefs.

Taking a Broader Perspective

An exploration-oriented mindset can have great benefits for decision making. The goal isn’t to second-guess yourself at every turn, but to become more adept at managing your own biases and adapting your views to the evidence. When you bring these capabilities into the global marketplace, your clarity of vision may give you an edge over the competition.

While honing your individual skills, you may also want to consider how to promote an explorer’s perspective within your organization and enable your entire team to benefit from the same habits of mind.

As a manager and leader, you can encourage your team members to think more like explorers by modeling the right behavior for them. You can also create standardized practices and procedures to streamline the process of seeking feedback, absorbing new information, and making adjustments as new evidence comes in. A comprehensive process of language quality assurance, for example, can help you make more accurate assessments and decisions when localizing products for new markets—so your next overseas venture will have the best possible chance of success.

Third-party review is the key to improving localization through unbiased assessments and decision making. Contact Beyont for more information about our approach to language quality management.