Confidence and Mistakes

We all know someone who screws up a lot, but never really pays for the failures as what you would expect. There is a hint of jealousy as you think to yourself that if it was you, you’d be canned. But the world keeps spinning and this person keeps messing up. Why?

There are all kinds of reasons for this and I’ll concentrate on two mainly.

The first is that this person, in spite of their failures, has many successes as well. They just get overshadowed by the mere volume of all that goes on. And this type of aggressiveness is acceptable because it isn’t the norm. Plus sometimes it’s just easier to see a long list of accomplishments. It almost doesn’t matter if half of them are meaningless.

The second is this person’s attitude tends to be an enabler. What I mean is that their lack of fear is comforting to others. We tend to imagine extremes, so although all errors are not created equal we often lump the consequences as all being the one that results in a job termination. When someone demonstrates that this isn’t true, it makes the job less stressful. It allows a little freedom in.

Another part that is interesting about these types of people is they are so visceral. Leading from the gut is great when it works out, but that’s the thing, they never seem to remember when it doesn’t. What usually happens is that everyone starts to react to them, whether right or wrong. This is first mover strategy in Game Theory, but it’s also personally innovative. It changes the rules of the situation to be advantageous to the strengths of this person.

It takes a certain amount of confidence to pull this off. I’m currently finishing up a book called Why We Makes Mistakes by Joseph Hallinan which, as the title suggests, discusses the different reasons why people make errors. One of them is overconfidence. According to the book (I’ll do a review soon) no one considers themselves average. We all rate ourselves above average. This lends itself to taking risks that are disproportionate to the payoff. And another slant on it was written about in an article by David Ewing Duncan on called A Crisis of Overconfidence. He references a study that shows that this overconfidence is in the genes of humans. And in today’s world those that are audacious retrieve more spoils. Those that are timid allow it to happen; they don’t want the conflict.

Which brings me to the cautious. If it happens too often then you fall into the trap of being uncertain and doubtful. It’s good to be cerebral and think things through, but there is a time for just making a call and going with it.

You aren’t always going to be right, but many times it won’t even come down to right or wrong, people will just be reacting. And if you need some advice, you can always ask the screw up guy. But let’s hope that is something he is good at.

Working Thoughts 12/11/08
Three Leader’s Strategies in a Down Economy

Working Thoughts 12/11/07
November 2007 Job Report Statistics


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