Conf!dence: A book review by Bob Morris

Confidence:OverConf!dence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Self-Doubt
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Hudson Street Press/The Penguin Group (2013)

How and why “low confidence is the result of failure but the source of success”

In this thoughtful and thought-provoking book, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic observes, “The main difference between people who lack confidence and those who don’t is that the former are unable (or unwilling) to distort reality in their favor. That’s right, the successful distortion of reality is the chief underlying reason so many people don’t experience low confidence when they should. Whereas pessimism leads to realism, optimism promotes the fabrication of alternative realities — lying, not to others, but to themselves.”

In this context, I am reminded of Bud Tribble’s comments about Steve Jobs, quoted by Walter Isaacson in his biography of the insanely great innovator: “Steve has a reality distortion field. In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he’s not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules.” According to Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, “His reality distortion is when he has an illogical vision of the future, such as telling me that I could design the BREAKOUT game in just a few days. You realize that it can’t be true, but he somehow makes it true.” Debi Coleman recalls, “He reminded me of Rasputin. He laser-beamed in on you and didn’t blink. It didn’t matter if he was serving purple Kool-Aid. You drank it.” Isaacson adds, “At the root of the reality distortion field was Jobs’s belief that the rules didn’t apply to him.” In this and in countless other respects, Steve Jobs was indeed one-of-a-kind.

For most of us, Chamorro-Premuzic asserts — and I agree — that we should not aspire to have high confidence, but to have high competence. If we focus on achievement, it will increase self-confidence naturally diminishing low self-esteem, insecurity, and self-doubt. Presumably Chamorro-Premuzic agrees with Ford about the importance of attitude: ““Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Presumably, Ford would agree with him about the importance of competence. Let’s add Thomas Edison to the discussion. He observed, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Confidence based on competence, on achievement, is no delusion. It has been earned through productive effort. In an important sense, competence speaks for itself…especially to those who gain it.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Chamorro-Premuzic’s coverage.

o Most Confident People Are Deluded, and, Ignorance Ain’t Bliss (Pages 12-15 and 15-19)
o The Confidence — Competence Grid (28-34)
o You Can Benefit from Insecurities (35-40)
o Successful People Are Rarely Themselves (53-56)
o If Character Is Destiny, Reputation Is Fate (64-70)
o Everyone’s A Psychologist (73-77)
o Three Things That Top Performers Do Better (102-112)
o How to Master Interpersonal Relations (117-120)
o The Toxicity of High Social Confidence (124-126)
o The Adaptive Side of Lower Social Conscience (126-132)
o Influencing Others (141-147)
o The Unhealthy Side of High Confidence (183-197)
o All You Need Is a Bit of Willpower & Low Confidence (207-210)
o Success Is the Best Medicine for Your Insecurities (211-214)
o A More Competent, Less Confident World (217-220)

Chamorro-Premuzic urges his readers to aspire not to have high confidence, but to have high competence. He show them “how to make that happen” in this book. I commend him on his skillful use of reader-friendly devices as he explains why people should aspire not to have high confidence, but to have high competence. They include relevant and thought-provoking quotations throughout the narrative; bullet point and numeric checklists of key points, dates, sequence steps, etc.; strategic placement of subheads (e.g. “Self-Knowledge Matters More Than Self-Belief” on Page 84 and “Embracing Low Confidence” on Page 211; and a “Using It” section at the conclusion of Chapters 1-7 to facilitate effective application of relevant information, insights, and counsel.

In his final paragraph, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic observes cites and then responds to an observation: “According to Alfred Adler, ‘To be human is to feel inferior.’ Perhaps, but competence gains relieve our natural feelings of inferiority, at least temporarily. Indeed, inferiority motivates us to try to achieve things. The more weaknesses you perceive in yourself, the more you will be motivated to improve, and the harder [and smarter] you will work. Low confidence is the result of failure but the source of success.”

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