Overconfidence & Performance (Paradox Pair #73)
Unexpectedly, as uncertainty and complexity rise, making the outcome less predictable, we find that overconfidence rises too.
We know a lack of confidence can increase our feeling like an imposter (Imposter Syndrome & Motivation). We also explored how experiences gained from being vulnerable can improve our confidence levels (Vulnerability & Confidence). Now let's take a look at the opposite side of this coin, when we are feeling overly confident.
Overconfidence may have some benefits. It may lower anxiety and help avoid procrastination. High confidence can increase engagement, allowing a breakthrough to happen. As we'll see below, generally it is rewarded with an improved social status. However, for the most part, overconfidence is a detriment.
Humans tend to be poor at self evaluating their capabilities, prone to exaggerating our talents and quickly buying into that same narrative from others. Brian Klass recently wrote about this phenomena in his excellent, and prescient, article, The Myth of the Secret Genius. Over confident people tend to dominate a dialog — speaking more loudly, eager to share their opinion, and thus set the tone for any ensuing discussion. They often use non-verbal cues, nodding as they speak, their posture exuding expertise and experience.
"It’s important to recognize these cues that demonstrate confidence – standing tall, speaking loudly, and dominating conversation – to avoid giving those who are overconfident undue influence."
- When Overconfidence Is an Asset, and When It’s a Liability, Elizabeth R. Tenney, Nathan L. Meikle, and David Hunsaker
While being overconfident can increase the risks of significant failure, resulting in large financial loss or unnecessary conflict, there seems to be little social accountability. As Kennedy, Anderson, and Moore document, "the status benefits of overconfidence outweighed any possible status costs". Kennedy et al. go on to say, "high levels of confidence might create positive peer-perceptions that remain even after actual task performance is revealed to others."
Unexpectedly, as uncertainty and complexity rise, making the outcome less predictable, we find that overconfidence rises too. As the stakes go up, so too does the bullshit.
To avoid falling into the overly confident trap ourselves the key is to consider each option independently.
- Reduce our choices to two or three best options: A, B, and C
- Look only at option A
- Assume that option A is the best solution. Explain why this is true.
- Look only at option B
- Assume that option B is the best solution. Explain why this is true.
- Look only at option C
- Assume that option C is the best solution. Explain why this is true.
While this construct is simple to understand and implement, left unchecked we instead compare and contrast the options together, strengthening the bias present in our overconfident choice.
The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us. A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.