The Right Kind of Confidence

June 21, 2011


There is a scene in The Secret of My Success that goes like this:

Uncle Howard: “What can you do for us, Brantley? What experience have you had?”

Brantley: “Practically none. But I believe in myself. Doesn’t that count? Deep inside, I know I can do anything if I get a chance.”

And being a movie, Brantley goes from mailroom grunt to owner of a huge multinational conglomerate in less time than it takes to cook a potato.

This makes for a great movie, but occasionally I see aspiring startup founders with the same type of starry-eyed, “emotional” confidence, sure that the intelligence and work ethic that lead to good grades and promotions in the past will continue to overcome any and every obstacle in the future.

They aren’t accounting for the selection bias of their past experiences. In school, the difficulty of each “obstacle” is carefully tailored. In other words, they don’t hit you with college-level physics in 5th grade.

Emotional confidence can blind a startup founder from seeing that in the real world, you can stumble into obstacles far above your skill level, or even problems that are impossible. It leaves no room for retreat without shattering the (false) belief that “I can do anything.”

The right kind of confidence, what I call “rational confidence”, is confidence not in your innate ability to succeed, but rather in the formula of an idea. It’s the same confidence with which you say “2 plus 2 equals 4”. If you have interviewed potential customers, surveyed the competition, prototyped the technology, analyzed your cash flows, and all signs continue to point to a successful idea, that’s when you can confidently say “accounting for a few unknowns, this looks like a winner.”

Channel your energy, intelligence, and hard work into finding a winning idea, and then you can talk about your startup with the right kind of confidence.

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