Confidence vs. Ignorance

Many of my students have been told that they need to have “confidence” and “fake it until you make it.”

I only half agree with this sentiment.

I think it is important to be confident. This is especially the case when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Instead of faking competence, I encourage you to confidently own your ignorance in a particular area and to ask questions.

You’ll see high-level CEOs do this all... the... time.

Most people fear looking like a fool, but CEOs who lack knowledge in an area are highly confident in their ability to learn the topic, but also fully self-aware of the limits of their knowledge.

This is the kind of confidence I encourage you and others to possess.

You can use bravado to fool those people who don’t know better that you have a greater level of expertise than you really do. In this situation, you’re using emotional energy to mask competence.

The problem with this approach is that it requires you to be around people who aren’t very skilled or talented.

If you want to grow your skills, you want to work with superstars and exceptionally talented colleagues, bosses, and mentors.

You can't fool smart people with purely bravado. No matter how confidently you say "2 + 2 = 6," someone who knows what they’re doing will see right through you.

Instead, have confidence in your ability to learn things that you do not yet understand. Use that confidence to ask the questions you need to understand the topic at hand.

In fact, the more senior you become, the more often you’ll be pushing the edge of your knowledge into areas that are unfamiliar to you.

The only way to develop competence is to ask the questions you have in the back of your mind. It’s the surest way to learn and grow your skills.

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