Or does it? When was the last time that you took a quiet, introspective look in the mirror and assessed your willingness to be open to new ideas? How often do you welcome discussion with those whose opinions differ greatly from yours? Is your, “open door policy” sincere or merely lip service to keep the masses from revolting? Has the fear of being wrong or making a mistake narrowed your vision?
Ironically, the topic of overconfidence and arrogance in our culture continues to only quietly appear and disappear and has done so for almost two decades. Most recently, the Harvard Business Review article below cites overconfidence as a prime factor of ineffective decision-making. Further, if you Google Search the topic, “overconfidence caused the economic crisis” there are over 300,000 articles pertaining to the idea that the last global recession was a direct result of overconfidence amongst professionals and the financial sector in particular.
Discussion about overconfidence is not new, however. It’s from the ancient Greeks that we get the term, Hubris and combines both overconfidence and arrogance. They obviously had similar issues in their time as this was often a central theme to their literature. In between ancient Greece and today, many have also written on the dangers of overconfidence. Some of those include:
Jim Collins, in his 2001 book, “Good To Great” discusses what he calls Level 5 Leadership being a combination of humility (in other words, a lack of Hubris) and an indomitable spirit.
The late John Wooden in his 2005 book, “Wooden On Leadership” famously states
“It’s what you learn, after you know it all, that really counts.”
In the “Little Red Book Of Selling” also published in 2005, author Jeffrey Gitomer outlines his sales maxims including, “Resign your position as general manager of the universe”. So essentially, get over the title on your business card.
Yet with all of this history, how often do you hear organizations, CEOs, leaders or experts of late warning of the dangers of overconfidence? Arguably, it’s becoming more and more of a rarity and there are at least two plausible explanations for this. First is the idea that our culture is becoming increasingly risk averse. Making a mistake is no longer an option and admitting a mistake is often seen as career ending for many professionals. Hence overconfidence has become the default defense mechanism. Judgement errors are for “other people” and admitting that one may need help or solicit the feedback of others is seen as a weakness.
Second are the by products of the digital age. Technology, the internet and social media in particular have made it possible for anyone to become a self-proclaimed expert or celebrity. Now more than ever, our culture sees popularity and the”number of likes” as some fundamental measure of societal contribution. This digital narcissism has spawned a new version of overconfidence that has spilled over into the real world.
How to avoid overconfidence?
In researching people, over the last decade, there are some common denominators in those who have thrived, been effective and found excellence both in the past as well as the present. First is cultivating the ability of introspection. Simply put, this is the practice of looking within and examining personal behaviors both openly and critically. Many of found excellence through looking at themselves both figuratively and literally in the mirror and asking the tough questions; “Am I being overconfident?”, “What could I be doing differently?”, “Am I soliciting input from others?”.
Second is having a set guiding principles that include keeping overconfidence in check and creating a sense of personal responsibility to self-regulate. I’ve often called this the, “Personal Code” and it can include specific commitments such as;
- Giving back to the community
- Soliciting feedback from peers on a regular basis
- Seeking out mentors or being one to someone in need
- Reading some form of wisdom literature often
- And of course, being introspective