Here’s a good friend of mine on confidence:
In a perfect world, ability and confidence would go hand-in-hand. Anyone who has managed people, however, knows that this is far from a universal truth. There is a whole body of literature on the ‘imposter syndrome’ that plagues even the most highly skilled among us, and no less than Roger Federer recently confessed to Sports Illustrated that he suffered a loss of confidence last year that lead to below average performances for him. This is something we see all the time in our own work with elite athletes and coaches.
I wonder about the channel that leads from confidence to performance. In sports, I think it’s about the athlete staying in a state of flow even while taking big competitive risks.
Business is much slower, though. The stakes can still be large but the increments are small. It’s more like practice than a game. And in this environment I praise skepticism as a starting place for confidence.
Skepticism of data. Skepticism of intuition. Many people have gotten very rich in insurance by exploiting others’ ignorance through moral hazard. It’s a messy business. And what’s more, we sell very complicated products where it’s more or less impossible to understand what a customer wants before they buy something.
If I’m training people, I teach them first to question everything. Then I teach them the tools to rebuild their understanding of the business. When you use a common set of tools, facts can be proven and confidence can be earned. When you have sold something to someone, you can say, with confidence, that “this is valuable”.
In this framing, confidence is a by-product of knowledge. If the sky is blue, it is blue, but look up first to make sure. With a culture of skepticism, we are insulated from impostors.