As leaders seeking to succeed in business,sports or the classroom it is key to find, inspire and develop people to be confident with a mindset to persevere in the face of uncertainty and adversity and ultimately derive energy from the challenge.
After completing Katty Kay’s and Claire Shipman’s inspirational book The Confidence Code, I was left feeling every good story has a villain and that this book could also benefit from one…
“Gore isn’t required for a good story, but adversity is.” – Celeste Ng
As a Player: Many years back, I met and played with Stanford’s National Champion Ultimate team captain. He imparted some advice to me: prior to a game, scout the opposing team for a or the pivotal player and then line up against them with the intent of playing your heart out in the first couple of points – completely shutting them down on defense and consistently escape their efforts at defense while I was on offense. This served to build my confidence while also eroded theirs – hence I played the role of the confidence robbing villain.
I applied that advice on the playing field at nationals and then the World Championships in Lucerne Switzerland and ever since in competitive sports and business. This notion of shifting the balance of confidence away from your opponent and towards yourself is something I didn’t encounter in the book. Interesting also was that though we beat the former national champion, they worked with the tournament organizer to introduce a cross-over game before finals and we found out just after finishing lunch that we had five minutes to be on the field. We managed to win that game but had to play the former champs again in the finals where we narrowly lost. I later found out that they had adjusted their strategy to switch players covering me at every opportunity to a strong defender of theirs. This switching wore me down and free up their best offensive player if their was a turnover. Hence they observed, learned and adjusted. We had to wait to adjust our tactics again to win in a winter nationals later on.
The key takeaways for me being:
- There’s power in finding ways to instill confidence in yourself.
- It will help your team win to instill similar confidence in your teammates.
- It is possible to erode such confidence in your competitors.
- Hence, the (im)balance of confidence can be shifted.
- It’s good to be wary of such tactics used against you.
As a Team: The book Confidence Code speaks to confidence as an individual, but confidence that is also something that can exist at a team level. After breaking my collarbone, the spouses/partners of the players of my Ultimate team asked me to coach them. Three months later we flew to their first tournament and were matched up against last year’s national champs in the first game. Our team shouldn’t have completed a single pass, but at half time it was tied and at the end, we lost by one.
It boiled down to inspiring them to play with confidence and earning their trust to try out totally unorthodox defensive and offensive strategies I’d come up with that their experienced opponents had never seen before. We switched between zone and person coverage within a point (previously unheard of). We also played zone coverage in the front and person in the back. Our players confidence allowed them to try these things and the effectiveness became a virtuous cycle for their level of confidence and energy. This can be the virtuous cycle of taking risks paying off. Granted, they were risks coming from a coach informed by 20 years of experience in the sport; nonetheless, the theories were never tried before and certainly risky.
Likewise, having a novice team rattle these highly competent veterans (by using tactics no experienced player would’ve ever tried and they didn’t know how to defend against) became a vicious cycle for their confidence and energy they were yelling at each other on the field and during half-time – as I recall, they also didn’t do so well in following games. We had robbed them of their confidence and shifted it to our team – hence, once again, in hindsight, I can see myself again in the villain role here. The balance shifted resulting in a totally unexpected outcome. The veteran team did eventually regain their confidence and win the tournament.
I had a few other requests to coach teams after that 🙂
In the Math Classroom: As a 1st grade teacher, I was told by an Ed Professor that within the first week all students and the teacher do a subconscious stack ranking of “smartest” to “dumbest” and that pans out in terms of who gets picked on the playground and who gets invited to birthday parties. So, at the end of my first week in a 1st grade class I’d come to mid-year, I asked myself who was at the bottom, and it was obvious to see in a Portuguese girl that was struggling to keep up linguistically and hence otherwise.
The whole class was struggling to grasp fact families…
3 + 4 = 7, 4 + 3 = 7, 7 – 3 = 4, 7 – 4 = 3
So, I asked her to stay with me during break and walked her through it with 3 yellow blocks and 2 red blocks … until she got it.
When the class came back in, I sat down with her in the front of the room, while others were doing exercises, I did equations like 21 + 32 = 53, 71 + 12 = 83, 34 + 43 = 77, …
She started crying and shaking, but with encouragement realized she just had to apply the same concept and she then started whipping down double-digit equations that 1st graders should not be able to do. The others noticed her excitement, came up to see what she was doing and were blown away. Within 2 hours she went from looking like the dumbest kid in the class to looking like the smartest and going from giving up on her own abilities to believing she could do anything. That shift in mindset stuck with her, and she remained a star pupil engaging from a place of confidence. What only came to me later, was the confidence eroding impact on the other kids who saw this child who they thought was clueless now being able to solve problems they couldn’t dream of solving; again, I was a villain. I did take a page from the growth mindset theory and helped them appreciate they hadn’t learned it “yet,” and then helped them master the theory behind fact families.
On that day, all the students in that classroom made a transition from having a fixed mindset to having a growth mindset – it was no longer a question of someone being smart or dump, they could all learn to overcome uncertainty.
As teachers, coaches, managers, parents, adults, humans, … we should recognize that we may, more often than we realize, be in a position where we could plant a sense of confidence, potential, almost invincibility and sense of worthiness in those that look up to us. By so doing we may help them appreciate that within them lies the potential to unlock abilities they previously didn’t realize they possessed.
In the History Classroom: I opened my fifth grade history class by asking for a raise of hands of who could tell me who discovered America. I got a lot of “Columbus” answers. When I asked them how they knew, I got things like my teacher told me, I read it in a history book, my dad told me. I asked: How does your teacher know? How does the author of the book know, how does your dad know? Now their curiosity was peaked as to where this new teacher was going. I asked how do we know anything? I asked them to imagine later during break Igor running in and yelling: “Mr. D., Mr. D. Johnny and Juan are fighting in the playground!” Imagine I bring the boys in and ask Johnny: Who started it? What’s he going to say? What if I ask Juan? What if I asked Johnny’s best friend? What if I asked Juan’s? Now I had eroded their confidence in what they knew and opened the doors to teaching them to seek primary sources of difference perspectives. The other great example to walk them through was the uncertainties of what really happened between the Conquistadors, the Aztecs and the Incas… The objective was to rebuild their confidence in their knowledge by helping them learn to find things closer to the truth themselves. Whether in history class, understanding an opposing teams strengths and strategies or evaluating a market a little skepticism can go a long way towards a better understanding.
This same lesson could be learned at the office or on the playing field about letting go of assumptions by asking: How do you know, and how does your source know?
See also my Orange Lesson.
Confidence as a Pose: in her TED talk, Amy Cuddy explains how you can derive confidence from something as simple as a pose. In her visit to Pure, Diana McKenzie mentioned how important it can be how you sit. When I asked if she also felt if it was important where you sit, as I noticed the women in the audience sitting to the back and sides leaving the front rows empty, unlike the men, she agreed. Amy Cuddy also speaks to being a poser in terms of faking it until you become it. She speaks of the all-to-common imposter syndrome women in particular can feel when they feel they shouldn’t be in a prestigious college, business or role. Much as I highly recommend the book Confidence Code, I also highly recommend her TED Talk: Your body language may shape who you are. There’s also a related article about Imposter Syndrome and why going outside your comfort zone may be uncomfortable but also very advantageous: Why Impostor Syndrome Is Good For You.
Note, Cuddy’s research has come under some scrutiny as per the references below; however, in the end, it seems there may be some truth to her premises, and I know people who say it works for them – just believing can also be a source of confidence as we all know, confidence is all about what we believe about ourselves…
- The Trials of Amy Cuddy
- When the Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy
- In response: P-Curving a More Comprehensive Body of Research on Postural Feedback Reveals Clear Evidential Value for Power-Posing Effects: Reply to Simmons and Simonsohn
Willingness to take risks Mindset: Another thing Katty and Claire speak to in their book is how confidence can help you be willing to take risks – or as I like to think of it, discover a hunger for the challenges of venturing into uncertainty to make new discoveries and build new strengths. If you look into Carol Dweck’s theories of Growth Mindset, you can see how that willingness to take risks is a cornerstone of the Growth Mindset.
On the Battle Field: I don’t have personal experience on the battle field, but a friend recommended Robert Coram’s Boyd – The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, and it turned out to be a fascinating read applicable in many venues. John Boyd’s OODA Loop and theory behind it. It’s also clear that Boyd derived strength and conviction from those that challenged him, and the greater force they were, the more it inspired him to excel. It was born out of his experience as a fighter pilot combined with reading things like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War; however, it’s applicable in a very generic sense as he concluded later in life as it started getting used in business and seemed reflected in the Toyota Production System.
Across the Board and on the Mat: Josh Waitzkin won his first National Chess Championship at the age of nine, and later became a World Champion of Tai Chi Chuan. In his book The Art of Learning, Josh insists he wasn’t a prodigy and that we can all achieve these levels of accomplishment with the right approach. One key aspect of that is studying and understanding his opponents and seeing them more as teachers than villains. Learning how they think and move he would learn both about the art and his competitor. He would slow down videos of his competitors in action to view them frame by frame. He also learned thrown the challenge of a broken hand which forced him to shift to learning to use his non-dominant hand. He seemed to convert his oppents strengths and his own challenges into opportunities to deeped his knowledge and abilities. He discovered that the best learning also involves the ability to unlearn and then relearn from a renewed and deeper insight. Josh Waitzkin says in his Talks at Google “Most of my big growth has come from losses’.
Waitzkin also references Carol Dweck’s notion of a Growth Mindset and learning from his mother’s practice as a horse whisperer in how her being in tune with the animals created a much deeper appreciation of what moves them. He too found deep truths between the seeming contradictions in Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching. Josh’s book resonated with me on so many levels that it has become on of my favorites. American author Alvin Toffler said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
In various marital arts, one learns to redirect the opponent’s energy. The harder they come at you, the more they’ll be off balance and the more energy you’ll have to work with. This technique is used in various martial arts including Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido, and Ju Jitsu. Using your opponents’ movements, momentum and focus to your advantage need not be limited to the physical realm. Josh Waitzkin, who include the use of this technique to win the Tai Chi Chuan world championships, would also in chess, on his path to winning nationals, find ways to take advantage of his opponents sense that they had made an effective attack to lure them into a false sense of security causing them to let their guard down and overlook his subtle redirection until it was too late. Likewise, in a verbal attack, taking the force head on is typically less effective than of you welcome and even agree with the attack. If someone accuses you of being unethical, the expected response is a defensive one. If instead you counter with, “thank you for pointing that out, I didn’t realize what I was saying could be unethical” you have begun to disarm them. You can follow with “that wasn’t my intent, but I’d love to hear your perspective…” you shift from a head-on confrontation to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them looking at what you said, how it could be interpreted or heard. I have found that often in agreeing with a verbal attack on you, that energy can often be shifted in your favor. What is heard is typically more important than what is said – understanding how others hear your words can help you learn to adapt your language and approach. In the end, it may be discovered that what was heard was more inferred than implied. By agreeing with an attacker’s assault, you may find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder next to them and may have converted an adversary into an ally. You can allow your villains to weaken or strengthen you – it all depends on which wolf you feed.
Making our Villains into our Heroes: Perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned and like to offer is to see the villains in one’s life stories that can rob us of our confidence as our heroes. Whether individuals, teams, businesses, events or health conditions, they challenge us to be better, stronger, more resilient and confident. Though it’s usually a lot easier said than done, in this way, we can thank them for making us stronger. It is by no means always easy, but when you make the villain in your story that seeks to rob you of your confidence become the hero that inspires you, you dis-empower them and shift the balance of power. I have always found a strong adversary on the field or in the office can be a tremendous source of strength and learning. Note, pulling strength from your opponent is one thing, if the villain appears on your own team, it’s good to establish you’re both striving for the same value, but hold different views on how to achieve it. I also share my strategies with my opponents as I prefer out-shining them to making them feel small.
We can choose to let the villains in our stories rob us of our confidence or inspire us to achievement that will build our confidence. I also discovered after reading Daniel Coyle’s Talent Code, that “primal cues” can help us in deep learning as we’re building myelin – primal cues are things like fear, competition, hunger, … Perhaps its not so much what we see, but how we see it.
The Villain that Robs Us the Most
In the end, our biggest villain is the one in the mirror, and yet that can also become our greatest ally. It all depends on our mindset and which wolf we choose to feed.
If you read Norman Doidge’s The Brain’s Way of Healing – Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity you may also discover our mind can also be a great villain or ally in our lives, the difference can lie in what movement, sounds and light we nourish it with. Recognizing things we need to overcome in ourselves is the first step, actually overcoming our own resistance to change is the bigger challenge. See a great summary of the challenge at Immunity to Change. Robert Keegan describes how only 1 in 7 heart patients told by their doctor they need to take medications in order not to die actually end up taking the medicine. See also his book Immunity to Change – How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.
The “Godfather of FinTech,” Ron Suber, speaks about having a Medium IQ, Medium EQ, High AQ (Adversity Quotient) and how his ability from childhood to overcome adversity helped him take on challenges and push beyond his fear and comfort zones. In The Adversity Advantage – Turning Everyday Struggles into Everyday Greatness Paul G. Stoltz Ph.D., Erik Weihenmayer talk about how AQ is about how you respond to life, especially the tuff stuff, a gauge or measure of how you respond & deal with everything from everyday hassles to the big adversities that life can spring on you.
“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
– Albert Einstein
If you’re interested in further thoughts on this topic, including my near death experience in the Pacific and overcoming the villains of powerful opioids, you can scroll past the See Also section below for the rest of the story…
- Katty Kay’s and Claire Shipman – The Confidence Code
- Carol Dweck – Theories of Growth Mindset
- Amy Cuddy – Your body language may shape who you areHuffington Post –Why Impostor Syndrome Is Good For You.
- OODA (Obeserve, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop
Wikipedia OODA Loop Robert Coram’s Boyd – The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
- David K. Williams, Forbes – What A Fighter Pilot Knows About Business: The OODA LoopManagement Study Guide – Observe Orient Decide Act (OODA) Loop Explained in DetailGene Hughson – OODA vs PDCA – What’s the Difference?Leadership Forces – Roderic Yapp – How do you Win in an Ever-Changing World?Leadership Forces – Roderic Yapp – The OODA Loop is one of the most valuable – yet poorly understood – theories that exists.Harvard Business Review – Mark Bonchek and Chris Fussell – Decision Making, Top Gun StyleBusiness Insider – Richard Feloni and Anaele Pelisson – A retired Marine and elite fighter pilot breaks down the OODA Loop, the military decision-making process that guides ‘every single thing’ in life
- Shayna Durazo: Trauma, Adversity and the Pursuit of Pursuit Success
- Frances Bridges 5 Ways To Build Resilience, From Sheryl Sandberg And Adam Grant’s New Book ‘Option B’
Continuing from above…
Kim Scott’s Radical Candor – In her book Radical Candor – Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, Kim Scott describes four quadrants for feedback. She explains a type of feedback that is obnoxious and aggression. Over the years in sports, business and private life, I’ve discovered that with a simple twist in perspective, I can receive feedback delivered as “Obnoxious Aggression” with the positive benefits of Radical Candor. If I take it in as though it were delivered with good intent and recognize that every time someone points out a weakness or failing of mine, they are actually doing me a favor by showing me where I can work on being stronger and more successful. This also dis-empowers any aggressive intent to tear me down. Yes, it sounds easier than it is at first, but once you realize you can do it, it becomes a lot easier.
I have yet to meet a human that doesn’t carry with them some degree of self doubt and concern for their own worthiness. Narcissistic glorious bastards might come to mind, but in my experience, those are often the people that experience the greatest underlying need to prove to themselves and the world how great and worthy they are. Oddly enough, those that are willing to be vulnerable and accept their imperfections often discover that doing so can prove to be a great source of strength and very fertile ground for growth. Certainly being vulnerable can often require a higher degree of bravery than being filled with self-conviction. I believe that being fearless doesn’t equate to be brave; acting in spite of fear is what bravery is all about. As leaders, being publicly vulnerable and accepting of our own imperfections also gives license to those we lead to be more at ease with their imperfections. It dis-empowers the confidence villains and empowers those that can learn to become comfortable with being vulnerable. It’s often not as much what we run into on our path, but how we choose to process the experience.
- In Brave, Not Perfect – Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder Reshma Saujani makes a strong case for being brave whilst accepting that we don’t need to be perfect in order to be great.
- In Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead Brené Brown speaks to leveraging vulnerability as a leader.
- In Mindset – The New Psychology of Success Carol Dweck speaks the willingness to take risks and fail as key components of a Growth Mindset.
Legendary football coach Lou Holtz, now retired and in the College Football Hall of Fame, had an uncanny ability to turn losing teams into winners.
On overcoming adversity,
Lou Holtz had to say:
In adversity, there is opportunity.
Show me someone who has done something worthwhile,
and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.
I’ve never known anybody to achieve anything without overcoming adversity.
Adversity is another way to measure the greatness of individuals.
I never had a crisis that didn’t make me stronger.
Remember that adversity presents us with numerous possibilities for success,
if we are just willing to see them.
As Helen Reddy once put it
“You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul”
From Behind Bars: When the Villains of Apartheid imprisoned Nelson Mandela and tried to break his soul in a tiny prison cell on Robben Island, he says he maintained his sanity and positive outlook in part by reciting Ernst’s Invictus to himself. I remembered this when lying immobile for weeks behind the bars of a hospital bed after the mighty Pacific had broken my shoulder, collarbone, rib, five vertebrae and wrangled my neck to the point where I couldn’t move my head. But behind the opioid fog of being on Oxycodone and Morphine, I could only remember the last lines “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” It also brought me back in touch with my previous experiences with breathwork.
From the corner of my eye, I could see the blood-oxygen meter I was hooked up to, and for entertainment, I decided to see how low I could get my heart rate while keeping my oxygen level at 98. I got down to 40 (I’ve since been able to go to 36) through calming my mind and slowing my breathing – which had an additional benefit as each breath was also painful even through the fog of morphine and Oxycodone. I remember achieving a state of inner tranquility through this heart- and breath-work; I felt lifted out of my pained body and able to observe it from above as the broken wreck while somewhat removed from the pain. It brought me to a whole new level of meditation and relaxation that seemed like an out-of-body experience that I refer to as Heart Rate Meditation. Ok, maybe the drugs had something to do with it, but it still has that kind of affect 13 years after I stopped the drugs. It also continues to serve as an effective way to remove myself from pain. At the time, with nothing better to do that let my mind wander, I also happened upon the notion that at some point the pain was more in my brain than in my body. Reading Norman Doidge’s The Brain’s Way of Healing – Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity has since given some credence to that experience.
At some point, the opioid fog became something I wanted to free my brain of. The doctor advised against it. He told me that the pain killers had allowed my brain to stop producing endorphins and that would kick back in right away. He said it would bring me to a new level of pain that would be hard to imagine. He said people that try to come off like that end up going right back on. I’m glad he warned me and informed me that after time, if I actually preserved, the endorphin production would kick back in. That knowledge combined with the ability to meditate myself away my pain allowed me to pass through that valley and eventually learn how to walk again. It still helps me 13 years later to separate myself from the villain of pain that has lived as my constant companion every day since.
The other thing I remember clearly from the experience was the fear that gripped me after I broke my back and the Pacific pulled me under. The quote from Chasing Mavericks flashed through my brain “Fear is good, panic is bad.” I was able to push past the pain and get my head over water. The second time the Pacific pulled me under, there was a moment of resignment that this was it. Accepting that lead to perhaps the most serene and peaceful moment of my life as I felt myself separate from my body that was nearing its end and seeing my parents above the beach about to lose a child. That gripped me and I felt driven to fight to get my head above the water again. I was able to push up and get my head over water again at which point I was pulled out by a friend and an off-duty EMT who had seen it happen and rushed in. Every day since then has been a gift to me just as every day after I realized I could walk again. This experience too seems to have helped reduce the power that my various villains and demons might have over me. My childhood experience of having taught myself to swim two full lengths of the Hollin Hills community pool without breathing, and my new skill of being able to lower my heart rate may have later save my life again. Life’s experience seem to build upon one another.
When my dad turned 103 and felt he had lost his autonomy in the physical world, I also read Invictus to him. Luckily, he still had a remarkable amount of clarity in his mind until the end, and we had some great conversations to the end. My dad had also the experience of learning to cope from behind bars many years earlier when he had been imprisoned by the Nazis.
At the office: Management can instill confidence or rob it. I discovered the importance of leaders that recognize that as a quality while working at Intuit as Brad Smith pulled me aside after a status update meeting to say he noticed that while most other managers consistently showed their projects had a green status, I often showed mine as yellow (at some risk). After a pause, he said he thought that was a good thing. I was being honest and while many other managers did everything to run their projects so safely that their status updates would consistently be green, I was willing to take risks, show that my status was often yellow, and recognize and have mitigation plans in case the risks came to bear. BTW, a status of red was a cry for help from management – which to me implied you went too far in taking risks and needed help to bail you out. Certainly, as the book underscores, failure is the inevitable result of taking risks. Allison Mnookin, a GM at Intuit at the time, told me that, from her perspective, it’s not failure that defines you but how you recover. Risk mitigation is key, but the ability to recover from a loss or failure is also an important skill to master. My take-away was: don’t allow a failure to be the villain that robs your confidence, see it as the teacher that imparted a valuable lesson.
As a Business: Another thing the author did not go into, probably because it’s a bit off-topic, is the power of confidence when scaled from an individual to a team. When I started at Intuit, it was resting a bit on it laurels for having created Quicken as a very useful tool for individuals to manage their money. It was doing well in the market, until BOOM a competitive, copycat product appears on the market built by a very powerful and successful company. Microsoft Money appeared on the market. It was a big morale blow to the employees to see the powerhouse behemoth show up to steal the glory. Intuit’s leadership, however, chose not to give up so easily. Throughout the organization, the notion that this smaller, but dedicated team could beat that powerhouse, and the team set about improving the product on a variety of vectors with many new and improved features. They did not allow the competitive villain to rob them of their confidence, instead they instilled confidence that we were batter at this game and we would prevail. The level of energy and commitment in the office which had just taken a huge blow, was suddenly way up and everyone was inspired to win this game. It was like the Marshall football team that would not give up. The resulting Quicken product came from behind to deliver tremendous improvements leaving MS Money in the read-view mirror.
As a Community: Perhaps not surprisingly at all, Intuit’s CEO, Brad Smith hails from West Virginia where he seems to have come from with the confidence to win repeatedly against all odds such as was the case in the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed 37 football players on the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team. The experience of the tragedy was the villain in their story which at first seemed to completely rob the university and surrounding community of their confidence and spirit, and yet they were able to rebuild the team, heal the community and ignite a powerful new spirit behind a rallying belief and chant “We are Marshall.” See also: Legendary Leadership: The Wisdom of Brad Smith
As a Government: One of the greatest challenges is to persevere is when your government is the villain against you. When you consider what confidence and courage it took for Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, The Dalai Lama, Oskar Schindler, Nelson Mandela, or Malala Yousafzai to find a voice to speak out and inspire others and draw courage from their convictions, you can only be left in awe.
In an industry: in 2009, my colleague and friend, Evan Driscoll, told me he was going to leave IMVU to join a startup as their first engineering manager at a startup that was daring to challenge the storage industry EMC. I left to go to work for a small startup that was challenging YouTube with a niche approach of streaming video gaming – talk about confidence. After tripling the size of the engineering team and lots of due diligence discussions, Twitch was acquired by Amazon for ~$1B. That’s when I left to work with Evan at Pure Storage that had found the confidence to challenge an established storage industry which led to another unicorn IPO experience for me. In both experiences, it also seemed to help motivate the team to find their confidence by finding villains to challenge and conquer on their road to success…
As a nation: As recently reminded from the movie Hidden Figures, in 1957, the “villainous” Soviet Union robbed the U.S. of a great deal of confidence by beating the U.S. to to space with the orbiting of Sputnik 1.
In 1962, Kennedy said: ” We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” That became a great example of a growth mindset confidently presenting a setback as an inspirational challenge. As a leader with the support of a nation behind him, instead of allowing the USSR to rob the U.S. of all it’s confidence, it was seen as a challenge and used to motivate. Hidden Figures, Apollo 11 and In the Shadow of the Moon (narrated by the original Apollo astronauts) are very inspirational in conveying what can be achieved by a confident nation in the aftermath of such a confidence robbing experience. Similarly, with Apollo 13, where the confidence robbing villain was a malfunction that initially seemed to have sealed the fate of the astronauts; however, instead of giving up, the team pulled off a miracle and managed to save them and again restore confidence in the program and nation.
The Experience Villain: As described above, a confidence robbing villain can come in the form of a competitive individual, team, or business. It can also come in the form of an experience. Taking risks in the real world, leaning over your ski tips, riding that big wave, etc can come with real danger as a rogue wave in the Pacific taught me as it smashed me into the shore breaking five vertebrae, a rib, a shoulder and a collar bone all in the blink of an eye. As I was being tossed around under water, that clarity that this could be the end came to me and I struggled to the surface for air despite the pain before being pulled under yet again. The next time I made it to the surface, I was able to find the strength to wave to a friend and she, and an off-duty EMT, came in a pulled me out. This all came back to me when watching the protagonist in the movie Chasing Mavericks go under and after coming out admitting to his mentor that he had been afraid. The response was “Fear is healthy, panic is dangerous.” That was certainly the lesson I learned on July 2, 2006.
Confidence Robbing From the Book: further along in the book, the authors do mention ~”A memory of a negative comment made by a colleague in a meeting four years ago may still be contributing our choices to keep quiet.” It’s from the perspective of the impacted party. Thinking about robbing confidence as a strategy and they being aware that it could be used against you, may help lessen that affect when you see/recognize it…
As a Horse and Trainer: Seabiscuit, a great true story about finding confidence for a horse, a trainer, a jockey and as a nation all facing seemingly insurmountable challenges brought on by the Great Depression which was a villain in its own right. In the story, the owner, the trainer, the jockey and the horse are all faced with various challenges that could have destroyed them. Together they turned those challenges into opportunities to achieve what seemed unimaginable.
Lean Startup Lessons: In The Confidence Code, reference is made to taking risks and failing fast as perspectives embraced in high-tech startups. These came in part out of Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses written from his experience at the startup IMVU where as the person responsible for engineering process after Eric left to write his book, consult and speak, I was able to continue with the culture of taking risks, failing fast, and experimenting as the company grew, all within the context of learning. I developed a strange love of failures, which I had come to see as “teachable moments” as a teacher , in business I started celebrating the discovery/recognition of a failure as an opportunity to find the root cause of the failure through a post mortem and 5-why analysis in order to further strengthen and improve our product and systems.
As a National Champion Ultimate Player: Competitive sports not only taught me the benefits of taking risks (a la Michael Jordan), but also the competitive edge that can be gained by forcing errors in the opposing players/teams. It is often more of a male characteristic to be competitive not only by excelling and exploiting our own strengths, but also to capitalize and exploit our opponents’ weaknesses. The Confidence Code and the … (Ted Talk Superhero pose…) talk about building confidence but don’t really call out the notion that there are others out there that will seek advantage in eroding your confidence (hopefully not within the same team/company). From my experience, being aware that strategy is out there and not taking it personally (or seeing it as a negative personality trait), but seeing it more as an Art of War strategy can help reduce the impact when that card is played against you.
Diversity in the Classroom: In working towards my teaching credentials, I wrote a paper on diversity from my experience in the classroom that recognized that often the students that struggled could be the ones that later excelled the most. It reminded me of such quotes as “Smooth seas don’t make for strong sailors” and Lou Holtz “Show me a champion and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity” Michael Jordan Fail/Succeed quote. The book makes reference to the ideas and calls out examples where challenges, if not entirely devastating, would strengthen you – if it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger… Good skiers lean over the tips of their skis and if they make it to the bottom of the hill on a practice run without a single fall, think to themselves: I didn’t push myself hard enough. The book also makes reference to the notion of “insufficient neglect” in parenting by overly protective parents having a weakening affect on their children.
At the Table: Informix once hired a retired IBM exec to come and observe and provide advice to managers. After a few meetings, he pulled me aside and said he noticed that I’d walk in and sit quietly on the outside even if there were seats at the table. He said he also noticed that when I did have something to say, every one would turn to listen. He told me to sit at the table and speak up more. I’ve also since heard that introverts think to speak and extroverts speak to think. The result often being that we hear things that weren’t thought out and time runs out before hearing the thoughts based in reason. Our societies seem to generate more introverts in women than men and we often go without hearing them. I guess the retired exec was telling me to lean in.
Managed risk taking is also confidence building.
In over 100 product releases (on physical media) I was responsible for only two were not on time (missed by a couple of days) despite my willingness to take risks by taking calculated risks and differentiating between nice to have functionality, my teams were always able to push hard but dial in the release by first ensuring must-have features were solid and being willing to dial back on optional features if needed to hit a date.
Instilling confidence where you discover a vacuum…
To repeat my take-away from the original post:
As my first student teaching assignment, I was given a group of disruptive 8th graders (other teachers had tossed out of their classes) that were all in gangs in East San Jose and didn’t really expect to live long enough to make it to college. I had heard of the book The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur and bought copies for everyone in the class. For many of them it was their first book ever and opened the to start reading and writing poetry. They were caught off guard by this white dude who wasn’t from their hood but could connect with them in a way no other teacher had. These students who had little hope and had never read a book, walked around proudly carrying a copy of their new book with a new found faith in their own abilities in part encouraged by a stranger that believed in them. They started writing their open poems about their own lives and started asking for other book suggestions. They were able to now appreciate that Shakespeare also was just writing from his own view into life in his world at his time…
“You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.“
– Michelle Obama Commencement Address
“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”
– Malcolm X
“A man of character finds a special attractiveness in difficulty, since it is only by coming to grips with difficulty that he can realize his potentialities.”
– Charles De Gaulle
“One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.”
– Albert Schweitzer
“You don’t want people who have never had to deal with adversity – you want people who have been able to deal successfully with adversity. That’s what adds to society. Those are going to be the hardest-working, best people.”
– Linda Ronstadt
“Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity. “
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.”
– Oprah Winfrey
“Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.”
– Amelia Earhart
“You may not control all the events that happen to you,
but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
– Maya Angelou
“There are uses to adversity, and they don’t reveal themselves until tested. Whether it’s serious illness, financial hardship, or the simple constraint of parents who speak limited English, difficulty can tap unexpected strengths.”
– Sonia Sotomayo