Most Sunday mornings, you can find me on the couch channel hopping back and forth between the Sunday political shows. My favorite part of each show is when they move from featured guests to their panels or roundtables. Even though I’m just as likely to disagree as agree, I find it interesting to listen to these pundits debate the week’s news back and forth. What does it all really mean? (Very little, usually.)
One of my favorites is George Will. If you paid attention to predictions during the last presidential election, Mr. Will (and others) predicted that Mitt Romney would win big. Even though I’d been watching Nate Silver, and knew the math backed up his prediction of an Obama win, for the length of that particular Sunday show, part of me thought, “Maybe, George is right after all…” Mr. Will was so confident, that I wanted to think he was right.
It turns out that the reason I like George may have more to do with his confidence than his accuracy. Two economic students at Washington State University took a look at the numbers, specifically sports predictions by both professional and amateur pundits, and the results confirm something you maybe already suspect. The most popular pundits aren’t necessarily the most accurate, but they are by far the most confident.
Their hypothesis: Pundits have a false sense of confidence because that’s what the public, seeking to avoid the stress of uncertainty, craves.
“The stress of uncertainty…” That line caught my eye and made me wonder if we’ve gotten trapped by a similar train of thought in business. For months now we’ve heard that business is holding back because of uncertainty. From elections to tax reform and immigration to healthcare, we’ve seen the headlines that business is afraid to act until the uncertainty is resolved. Seriously?
Here’s the two-step strategy I recommend if you’ve allowed yourself to get sucked into this nonsense.
1. Recognize the business world is never completely certain
If you’re holding back from making a business decision or executing a marketing plan because you’re waiting for the uncertainty to “clear up,” you’ll be waiting forever. I’m not exaggerating. It will never happen. If you’re an entrepreneur, you got a taste of this reality when you started your business. Did you know with certainty what would happen after you flipped the switch and went from just thinking about it to actually doing it? I doubt it, but you still flipped the switch.
The reality is that certainty is one of those things we like to talk about even though we know it doesn’t really exist in any meaningful way. Your job is to assess the variables you do control. After that, make the decision based on what you do know as opposed to holding out for what you’ll never know.
2. Confidence and accuracy are often at war with each other
The most obvious difference between being a pundit and running a business is expectations. Confidence may make a pundit more popular, and your confidence as an entrepreneur made is possible to take that initial leap, but at some point, it will matter if you’re accurate. Clients won’t keep coming back no matter how confident you are if you keep messing up their orders. However, there may come a day when your desire for accuracy will get in the way.
Steve Woodruff calls it the Impostor Syndrome. It happens when we get outside our comfort zone, and we become competent people who feel perpetually incompetent. Steve shared a story about co-hosting LeadershipChat with Lisa Petrilli that demonstrates this disconnect perfectly:
By all accounts, it was a big success. But many people will be surprised to hear my confession that I felt somewhat like an impostor the entire time. Not because of the community management and social media aspects of it – Lisa and I were both strong there. Nor because of the vision and effort we put into it. But the fact is, leadership “stuff” is not in my core. I’m quite interested in it, I can write about it and discuss it – but the topic was much more in Lisa’s wheelhouse than mine. Plus, I’d never worked/led in a larger corporate environment. Therefore, I often felt somewhat out of my primary competency zone.
Steve is a smart and talented guy, and yet, he still felt like an impostor because he didn’t see the leadership stuff as his “core” competency. This will happen to you in your business. There will come a time when a customer asks you to do something, and your initial and accurate answer may be, “No, we don’t offer that.” However, in the back of your mind, you add a caveat, “…but that’s something I’d really like to try.” So while you should represent what you do and how you do it as honestly as possible, be prepared for those moments when confidence should trump accuracy.
There’s no question that it can be a balancing act to manage confidence, accuracy, and uncertainty without letting any one of the three overwhelm you. So let your confidence give you a head start to get past the uncertainty, but have a plan in place that makes accuracy your long-term goal.
Photo Credit:confidence by Glenda Sims