This is the fifth installment in my Culture series. Excellence is the model we strive for, Truth is the mirror that keeps us on course, Agility is how we get there. But we need something else. We need an engine to move us forward, regardless of the challenges we face along the way. That engine is confidence. Performance is impossible without confidence.
Know yourself. The dictum “Know thyself” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) was apparently carved into the rock at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, for the benefit of visitors who had come to consult the Oracle (priestess) there and hear her prophesies. Today we think of the word ‘prophesy' as meaning predicting the future, but in fact the origin of the word is the ‘spokesperson or advocate of the gods / God’. Prophesy is in fact the act of explaining the true state of the world through divine knowledge. In ancient wisdom: a person’s future is a function of their Fate and their Fate is a function of who they are, here and now. So a visit to the oracle was in fact a voyage of self discovery. To understand your future, understand yourself. To change your future, change yourself. Only through self-knowledge can we achieve true confidence. To trust the world around us, we must first trust ourselves.
Be prepared. It is natural to feel a lack of confidence if you don’t feel ready to tackle the challenge ahead. To change your future, you need to change yourself. If you lack the technical knowledge to do something, go learn it! Read up, ask others, take a course, experiment. If you are wary of meeting with a customer, make sure you understand their business and our offerings thoroughly. You create value when you connect the two. We fear what we do not understand. Thorough preparation is perhaps the single best thing you can do to improve your confidence heading into a situation. Have a plan, ask questions, study up, equip yourself! Curiosity builds confidence.
Practice! To learn a new sport you know you need to practice. When you first start to ski or skateboard, for instance, you wobble around. This is mostly due to a lack of confidence. I have seen people fall over when basically just standing on skis because they so fearful of the new environment. In the US Navy SEALs, instructors apparently routinely tell recruits: “You are capable of 20 times more than you think you are!” We literally hold ourselves back because we feel we cannot do something. Only when we push our own envelopes do we realize that we are in fact capable of 20X what we thought. Build experience to build confidence.
Have respect, not fear. There are many dangerous things and situations in the world, an encounter with which might lead to an unacceptable outcome. Fear is the instinctual tool we have to manage the risk of danger. Fear generally drives us to fight or flee. But fear has negative side effects: shaky hands, weak knees, upset stomach, chills. Worst of all, it can cause paralysis (the proverbial 'deer in the headlights'). To avert this, replace fear with respect. Have deep respect for risk. Understand it, manage it, and don't take it lightly. But do not let it manage you.
Be proud, not prideful. True confidence is not puffery. It is not boastful. We all know people who project
a very confident demeanor yet they clearly feel just the opposite, compensating for an actual lack of inner confidence. True confidence comes from within, and it is very hard to act with real confidence externally if you lack confidence internally. As humans we all need positive feedback, and part of our partnership with each other is to help celebrate the success of others. But we should all be driven fundamentally by being proud of our accomplishments within ourselves. If we are dependent on the accolades of others, that is being prideful and is not confidence.
When in doubt, do something. "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." (Walt Disney). It is generally advisable to have a solid plan for success for starting out, but sometimes things are not clear up front and you risk running into analysis paralysis. Sometimes it is easier to just get going and make a course correction as you start to see the lay of the land more clearly. If you manage your risk by taking an agile approach, then you can have confidence that a course correction will not be very costly. That experimentation is the heart of innovation.
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