Overconfidence has destroyed a countless amount of entrepreneurs. Just look at the NetFlix pricing debacle. Overconfidence robs you of an open mind, it makes you blind to the innovation of competition, and it allows you to be stagnant.
As a day trader I learned this lesson weekly. When I had a string of good trades I would become arrogant – nothing could stop me! As soon as this arrogance was acted on I was spanked into submission. When I thought the laws of trading no longer applied to me they would come back to forcefully remind me that I didn’t get a free pass.
Entrepreneurs must travel a fine line between confidence and overconfidence. You must have full faith in what you’re doing and simultaneously understand that you could be proven wrong at any moment.
Like many business principles, this one is colorfully demonstrated by Steve Jobs. He’s famous for regularly telling somebody their idea was “shit” then bringing the idea back calling it his own and dubbing it genius. He wouldn’t admit it if your idea was better than his to you – but he’d admit it to himself.
Why You Need to Visit Dumb
Perhaps the most important part of this is that we come down from confidence every once in a while. We must forget everything we know in order to find out what’s really going on.
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. - Shunryu Suzuki-roshi
Stay hungry. Stay foolish. – Steve Jobs, quoting the last issue of the Whole Earth Catologue
- Keeps your mind open. When you come from a place of inferiority your mind is more open to improvement. When you think you know everything there is to know about something then you cease learning and lose your edge. The people who are best at what they do stay hungry – they need to get better even when they’re the best. They’re also willing to stay foolish – to fail. No matter how clearly you may see a situation it could change in a heartbeat and only the minds that are open to change will be able to take advantage of it. The music industry is a perfect example of what happens when closed minds gather together. They have suffered a massive amount as an industry because they were unwilling to see the changes in the environment right in front of them.
- You see more. When you come from a place of inferiority you are forced to observe what’s happening around you. When you know you don’t know what’s best then you have to see what the others are doing. You never want to keep your mind feeling inferior – you may forget that you actually do know some things – but you have to visit in order to observe what people around you are doing. We can slip into a focus so narrow that we miss out on seeing other things that can help our cause.
- Keeps you in the growth mindset. Realizing you don’t know everything forces you to see that you still have a lot of growth left. There is nobody in the world who reaches perfection in any skill and so no matter who you are there is room to grow. Not just a little bit, there’s a lot of room for growth.
- You become more likable. When you realize that you can learn something from anybody you begin to respect them more and when you respect someone they are more likely to like you. It’s good to have friends in this life.
Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise. – Cato
- Talk to smart people outside your field of expertise. More and more it’s important to have an intersection of expertise. If you’re an engineer then talk to a designer. If you’re a salesman then ask a musician about how they connect with fans. When you explore outside your field you can gain a wider perspective on your own. That person that knows nothing about your field may have exactly what you need to move forward in your own. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to be assistant direct a play written by a Tony Award winner. There are surprisingly important lessons in theater that transfer to our world of business. (They’ll be wrapped up in an upcoming post.) It’s easy for people within an industry to adopt the same way of thinking and sometimes it takes an outsider to point out the BS.
- Talk to a ‘dumb’ person. Like Cato said, “Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise.” A smart person will observe a dumb one and learn something. What are their biggest complaints? That may be an idea for a business. What are they drawn to? Somebody with no knowledge of what you’re doing can be the guy to point out the most basic errors. Some large companies bring these people with no knowledge into brainstorming sessions to point out the things that people who are “thinking more highly” will often overlook.
- Look at the ones who shouldn’t be making it. Look at the people who are making it who shouldn’t be. There are always these people in our field who have had some level of success that we see as undeserved or nonsensical. What do they do that they others don’t? It’s likely they have found something that other’s haven’t.
- Flip your assumptions. Attempt to list out all your basic assumptions about your business and then flip them on their heads. Cirque De Soleil was created because Guy Laliberté realized that circuses could be something completely different. Listing your assumptions will help you see what ideas you’re operating on and potentially find your next big idea. To see your assumptions you need to question everything you believe – it’s hard.
- Read something different. Read a book that’s different than what you would have otherwise. If you read only non-fiction books then try reading a novel. Maybe read a book from a different industry or supporting a different viewpoint from the one you hold. This will throw your mind into uncomfortable territory and make you consider ideas you wouldn’t have otherwise. Relate these different perspectives onto your own world and see where they can help.
- Visit different places. Visit the workplace of somebody in a different field from you. Maybe they have productivity strategies that haven’t yet made it to your industry. Go to a different city to experience a different culture – what can you learn from them? It’s fun to go to another country to but it’s much easier to notice the different cultures close to you. What do they do there that you can try out yourself?
- Attempt different things. When you learn a new skill you will inevitably find principles that you can transport to your main work. When you learn a new skill you are faced with the basics – which may remind you of basics you have neglected in other areas. It forces your mind to be open to new ideas because you know nothing about that new world.
- Be inconsistent . Emerson said, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” What he’s saying so beautifully is that our fear of being inconsistent holds us back from learning. Notice when you’re angered by an idea you disagree with – this is a sign that you should consider the idea more seriously. It’s good to realize that we’re wrong because then it gives us room to find the right answer. You can’t find better ways if you’re scared to leave your current ways. These are the most painful lessons to learn because we think it’s bad to be wrong. The thing is, being wrong is only bad if you stay wrong.
- Look at the best. When you think you’re the best just hope on Google and find somebody better than you. How did they get better? Did they work harder? Smarter? A fish can think he’s the biggest until he gets gobbled up. Remember, there is always room to get better.
Remember You’re Not Actually Dumb: Rehab
I gave you a bunch of ideas to remind yourself of your inferiority. Don’t ever let inferiority paralyze you! If we take our own inferiority too seriously then we can be chased away from doing our own best work. It’s scary to show ourselves how little we know. I have chased myself into periods of not learning or doing anything because my mind wasn’t ready to see it’s own limits. This is how I rehabilitated my mind to a healthy level of confidence.
- Remember you chose to practice the inferiority tactics. You purposely used those tactics to learn more to make your own life better. They are your tools to learn more about the world – as soon as they aren’t working for you then forget about them.
- It’s about you, not them. You are here to learn the most and make your life the most enjoyable thing it can be. You’re not here to be who they think you should be. You’re not here to be smarter than anyone else – just to learn.
- Focus on being better. Keep your focus on getting better at what you’re doing. The importance of seeing yourself as less knowledgeable than other people is that you can use that information to get better yourself. Keep your focusing on how you can be better and you won’t have time or energy to worry about not being as good as somebody else.
- Remember skills come slowly. Gladwell made the “10,000 hour rule” famous (that is, it takes 10,000 hours of practice at something to get really good at it) and showed how a lot of people who look like geniuses are just the product of a lot of hard work. Stay patient and trust in your practice – you’ll get there eventually.
- Set yourself up for small wins. It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you are faced with a task that hasn’t been broken down. Measuring your progress and taking small victories will make it much easier to practice through the frustrating parts.
- Amaze yourself with some science facts. If you look out into space you remember the bigness of the whole universe and it will give you another perspective on your life. Look at the beginning of your life: you beat out millions of other little sperms – you’ve already won!
Dip into Dumb and learn something – then get out! Remember you have an infinite amount of things to learn then remember that it’s your life and you can choose to learn whatever you want.
Don’t be scared to be dumb before you die!
What are things that you learned from the most unlikely places? We want to hear them! Put them in the comments below!