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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Pull Back the Veil to Reveal...

  -  Pauline Kael

  -  Mal, Inception

  - Inscription from a statue of Isis

Today, I read an article about how overconfident people succeed, frequently in spite of the limits of their talents.  Promotions, monetary success, etc aren't about skills in many fields, ranging from sales to politics to polling - it's about confidence.  When these people are in positions beyond which their skills are suited - say, management, they can actually impede success of their direct reports.  Mistakes aren't owned. they are trickled down.  Underlings get thrown under the bus, which continues to chug along the wrong trajectory.

I have also written about the cognition of confidence, too - people who are expert at a given task tend not to be hyper-confident.  There is always doubt that perhaps, they've missed something in their analysis, a better example could have been found, etc.  This is how expertise is developed - uncertainty and the need to do better drives these individuals to push beyond the limits of what they know.

If you're overconfident, there's no need to pursue new facts that will cloud the issue - you have the answer, the ability, the skill without modification.  You just need to keep doing what you know.   Which is why overconfidence is the enemy of expertise.

Ignorance is a veil blocking off the dark corners of our mind.  When we pull back those veils, we find new things, new facets, new capacities to build and connect ideas - then communicate them.  When we're overconfident in the model of us we've established, we're telling ourselves we've already pulled back all the curtains; there's nothing left to discover.  We're deluding ourselves we're the best at what we do, we know more than others, the answers are ours, if victory were solely up to us, it would be assured.

Yet nobody's perfect, there is always room for improvement.  The right push, the right crisis - the right motivation will shake our worlds enough to show the impermanence of the walls we've established as safe ground, forcing us to lift another veil. 

Dreams make for another great metaphor.  By their nature, dreams are removed from reality and include impossible detail, but we don't question that while we're in the dream.  When we awaken, it becomes clear to us that the things we accepted could not be - nuance was missing, detail, texture.

Such is perception.  We imbue what we perceive with emotional value - it is that internally described value, not the nature of the thing perceived, that shapes our judgement.  On the surface, the employee who under performs is incompetent and that's all there is to it, or the boss is a superficial egomaniac who cares less about results and more about flaunting their position.  One level deeper, the employee might have been sold that they are something they are not - same too the boss.  There might be family, health, all kinds of issues that shape who that person is and what lineage they bring to a given moment of contact.  The same basic principle applies to someone who looks in the mirror and "feels fat" despite what anyone tells them; it's the feeling of the thing, not the thing itself, that resonates.

You can say that's all irrelevant - all that matters is the bottom line or the pay cheque.  You can tell yourself to keep home and personal and work and social lives separate, but there's just one person in which those worlds are equally grounded - you.  In experience, you find that it's hard to keep those worlds from collapsing in on each other. 

When you cling to your confidence and try to deny the possibility that reality has more depth than you've credited it with, confidence can quickly turn in to fear of the unknown and in response, anger.  When you come to accept that you are not perfect and have much to learn, you tear down another veil.

Maybe you don't like the metaphors; maybe allegory isn't your thing.  Try it this way:

Pay no attention to what's behind the curtain.

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