Confidence: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 27th, 2011 by bobmorris

Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End
Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Crown Business (2004)

Locating the “stones” under the water

This brilliant book’s subtitle is accurate but does not fully indicate the nature and extent of what Kanter achieves in her latest book. She does indeed explain how and why both winning streaks and losing streaks begin and end but she also explores with her characteristic rigor and eloquence what she calls a basic truth: “People rise to the occasion when they have the confidence to do it.” Human success and failure have quite specific cycles that can be measured in terms of equally specific trajectories. However, when human nature is involved, geometric measurement (at best) indicates trends, patterns, etc. but fails to explain the single most important, indeed most decisive element: self-image. Henry Ford no doubt had that in mind when suggesting “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Kanter would agree, of course, but WHY do so few people demonstrate a positive self-fulfilling prophecy whereas most demonstrate a negative self-fulfilling prophecy? These are among the questions which Kanter addresses in this book.

Of special interest to me is her examination of examples provided by athletic teams when delineating her core concepts. (She also offers excellent examples from the business world that is to be expected, given her professional career and previous books and articles.) As Kanter suggests, there is much of great value to be learned about creating and sustaining confidence from Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut), Dusty Baker (San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs), Anson Dorrance (University of North Carolina), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University), and Bob Ladouceur (De La Salle High School). The same lessons are revealed in the lives and careers of my own coaching role models, notably Joe Paterno (Penn State), John Wooden (U.C.L.A.), and Morgan Wooten (DeMatha High School). There are specific reasons why some organizations (including athletic teams) with relatively “less going for them” (e.g. funds, facilities, and talent) continue to succeed in competition against others with greater advantages. Those who are “winners” have self-confidence, of course, but they also have a strong sense of team and appreciate the importance of everyone else involved with them as well as everyone else who helped to make their success possible. They realize that they, like Sir Isaac Newton, have been privileged to stand “on the shoulders of giants.” For that reason, Charles Lindbergh chose “We” as the title of his autobiography.

Both winning streaks and losing streaks seem to be contagious. Kanter helps her reader to understand how they develop and, more importantly, what they reveal about their probable causes. In her final chapter she observes “In losing streaks, it seems as though talent has disappeared and decline is inevitable — or else why would the workers, the managers, the politicians, the players let the situation continue to deteriorate? [i.e. the negative self-fulfilling prophecy] The opposite appears to be at work in winning streaks — that individuals can perform miracles, that they do indeed walk on water. But every water walker needs the stones to make it possible to move across the water.”

I consider this to be Kanter’s most valuable book because it speaks to anyone and to everyone who struggles to “rise to the occasion” but now lacks the confidence to do it. The stones are already there beneath them. Kanter will help her reader to locate them, then “rise to victory”…not only in competition but in personal fulfillment.

 

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