It is a cliché to talk about how the things we don’t know being the things that Thermometer - Confidence Levelhurt us, but the things we don’t know can also impact our career and confidence.

Being sure of something that is incorrect is a major issue in business. For example, many people today think that online social media are the major way that ideas spread, whereas word of mouth still is. Most of us have heard of four stages from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence. However, the first stage may be the most common, and, of course, most people believe they are in the fourth stage of unconscious competence. The Dunning-Kruger effect results in ignorance begetting confidence. If you are ignorant, you are more likely to be confident, while if you know the issue well you are more likely to be aware of the challenges, which can impact your career and confidence.

Having worked with and observed thousands of executives from large corporations to start-ups, it is sometimes difficult to believe that so many are successful. Most start-ups fail, and many believe it is usually not because they are bad ideas but because execution is poor. Equally, many successful start-ups are successful in spite of themselves. As the complexity of business grows, the demands it makes on managers grow. While technical skills can be learned, many of the “soft” skills of management and decision making are getting worse. Pre-technology trading companies had more effective control mechanisms than J.P. Morgan seems to have now. In the absence of technology, they put more effort into understanding people than many managers do now.

Since this is not an attempt to insult everyone (I am certainly incompetent at something I think I am expert in, too), what is the solution to this career and confidence question, if any? There actually is a simple checklist that anyone can use that will improve the situation:

  • Assume someone else knows more than you do about a topic in which you are expert.
  • This means you must be wrong about something, so seek and listen to advice from other experts. Uncomfortable advice is often the most valuable.
  • Recognize that all knowledge has a half life. You may find that you have to spend a third of your time learning new things just to remain up to date—think of direct response, media buying, software development, process control, and even law.
  • Encourage curiosity—it breeds humility.
  • Remember that when you feel totally confident that you are probably missing something and you are suffering from hubris.
  • Surrounding yourself with flatterers is a recipe for disaster. Reward people who can bring you new thinking.
  • Do everything you can to make your workplace somewhere everyone can be the best they can be. This is what we mean by being a “Best Place to Work,” not just a place where everyone is high all the time!

If you continue to learn and develop, both your career and confidence will grow as well.