Humility & Confidence and the Ability to Create
Mastery of “Skills” is of critical importance in the self-identity of man, and indeed a cornerstone of civilization because mastery of skills allows us to create, innovate, and achieve in the rapidly changing society we have today. The creation of both tools and objects of art is one of the differentiating factors between humans and animals. Sure, there are some animals that create limited tools or works of art but there is a clear difference in the human scope of creation. For example, in nature specific ‘tasks’ may be passed down or even the ‘art’ that the rare animal may create is biologically driven likely as part of a courtship process. The art and skills mastered by man are voluntarily and also differentiated by individual choice. In addition to the impact on civilization, the act of creation and ability to mold the world around you is not only a human trait but also an essential trait of manhood.
The ability to master a skill, or more accurately work towards mastery, takes the interplay of both humility and confidence. Confidence certainly fits that mold of manhood that many are familiar with, as in the confident alpha male. But the question may remain, with where and how humility fits into this process. Without both confidence and humility one’s ability to learn, grow, and perform (create) will be severely limited. Each of these traits must be in balance to maximize one’s ability to learn and contribute.
To provide context around humility I will provide some personal experiences. I have worked in manufacturing organizations with many talented engineers and doctorates. The manufacturing processes, parts, and interaction with a dynamic supply chain and business needs is a complicated web. Early in my career I wished to assert my intelligence by always having answers and jumping to action without getting everyone’s response. Being a fairly intelligent and capable person I was somewhat successful with this methodology, but I certainly wasn’t coming close to contributing at my full potential.
I become frustrated noticing that people who I felt were not as smart or as capable as me (excuse the ego) were in fact contributing more than myself. “How was this?” I asked myself. What I discovered was that not only did I not have all the answers – No one did. These individuals were doing what I wasn’t…they were asking more questions, involving more input, and recognizing their lack of knowledge or expertise. I felt they were not as smart or capable, yet they were using methods that allowed them to be gain more knowledge and create more value than me.
I began to follow these same methods and realized the more I said “I don’t know” the more I realized I did, in fact, not know. This process forced me to dig further to understand the systems, ask for input, seek mentorship, and collaborate with other stakeholders in the process. The more “I didn’t know” forced me to take the action needed to exponentially grow my knowledge, understanding, and skill and thus increase my results. I began employing these same concepts to my hobbies which accelerated my abilities in these fields of fabrication, strength training, and engineering projects. The more I said “I don’t know” or “tell me more” the better I became.
The learning or creation process must begin with confidence. This confidence comes in the form of believing in one self and one’s ability to learn, grow, master, and then create. Without this confidence the process never starts. You never take that first step to growing and you stay on the couch dreaming. Once you use that confidence to jump in you must then set it aside and accept being humble to learn and master.
A couple common phases that articulate this point of humility is “the day you think you know everything is the day you stop learning” and “the more you learn the more you know you don’t know”. Try spending a little time with most any expert in his or her respective field and you might be surprised by the context of the conversations. Sure you will find some cocky self-assured people, but the majority of truly knowledgeable experts are people that will often offer alternative viewpoints of big picture questions. Compare this approach to that shown by relatively low level people in the field who oftentimes seem to jump at the opportunity to offer definitive answers to those same questions to which the expert offered thoughtful alternatives. The difference is the second person is operating off ego to either demonstrate to you or even themselves that they are competent and a master of their trade. This is the opposite of the humility needed for them to actually progress to the mastery of that trade, knowledge, skill, etc.
Frequently, we see this misdirected confidence and lack of humility in ineffective leaders. We’re talking about that leader with a big dream but every project or vision they try and implement gets derailed by the overlooked details. I imagine these leaders saying to themselves “I’m a big picture person I don’t need to know the details”. The key factor in this failure is the fact that they really had a dream but in fact never had a vision. (Not sure I get your point here)
A vision is a picture that includes the path (read: the details) to achieve that dream. A lack of learning the details, or at least of learning how to analyze the effectiveness or progress-to-plan those details, will result in poor leadership. Even those big picture people must know how to get there. Your path may not even get you to your dream if you rely on others to create you vision, and in fact your big picture dream may not even be realistic and you may never know it. Letting your ego get in the way and hold you back from the humbleness needed to understand the details, ask for feedback, involve stakeholders, or seek mentorship will allow you to fall into this trap. Without luck poor leadership stemming from the lack of humility will lead to eventual failure.
Ego and confidence without properly placed humility leads to an inability create value and form the world around you, to express this core manly virtue. Although humility is critical in your ability, confidence is just as important. Confidence must be displayed to start this process and it must also be displayed in taking action to test you skills. Without confidence you never get off the couch, or out of the lab or library after being humble. There is nothing effective, or manly, about the expert that has not forged substance from accomplishment and action. What is real and measured is results; but you must have the knowledge, skill, and mastery to achieve those results.
How then do you know when to apply confidence and when to be humble? The answer is relatively simple. You must be confident in your actions but humble about your understanding. Display the confidence and courage to say “I can and will do this” and the humility to know that there is always a better way – always more to learn.
Admitting to one’s self that you don’t not have all the answers (humility) is a contributing factor in the quest for knowledge. Knowledge about a topic generates confidence.