The self confidence topic has been on my mind recently because of some new experiences I’ve had at work. In Self Confidence – Part 1, I wrote about what confidence is and where it gets you. Being secure in who you are gets you to the point of not focusing on what others think of you. Rather, you’re aware of your abilities and can just be you. Self Confidence – Part 2 dealt with gaining that confidence and learning how to take baby steps toward gaining that security. I referenced a TED Talk by David Kelley of Ideo and the Stanford d.school. That talk was about gaining your creative confidence. Recently, I’ve had the privilege of working some with some people who have just joined my company through an acquisition and have brought some fresh air without quite meaning to address people’s confidence.
One of these people is Brian Curran who is a successful businessman who ran Best Buy’s web presence amongst other ventures. He’s the kind of person whose confidence fills a huge room but still has a warm interpersonal touch that pulls you willingly along with where he’s going. He’s a self-proclaimed imposter in the software world because he comes from a different world. He’s a problem solver and focused on results though which is really what it’s about. John Kembel is another individual working with Brian. His first story in a meeting about design was instantly familiar to me from David Kelley’s TED Talk. It turns out that John went to Stanford and his twin brother George co-founded the d.school with David Kelley and runs it. John, who is also associated with the d.school, is engaging in a different way that’s not as amped as Brian and tends to suck you in rather than have his wake carry you along. Their focus on the design process as it applies to products, process, and human experiences is extremely engaging.
In addition to working with them mapping customer journeys, I’ve focused on these two strong personalities and how they relate with others. It actually amazed me that both John and George emote the same way. There’s lots of moving around and arm gestures that really magnify their points. You don’t just watch a presentation with them, you engage in a dialog. It’s impossible to get to the point that these men are at without being extremely secure in who you are and having your persona drive a group. So, while loading up my iPad with content for a cross country flight today, I downloaded Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk titled “Your body language shapes who you are.” I was very curious if it would give me some more insights into Brian and – in particular – the Kembel brothers. Amy came across as a strong speaker with an engaging style. While the talk started discussing dominant and passive postures, it shifted to something much more powerful and emotional than body language. It hit her struggle with confidence and how she got it.
Fifteen minutes into a twenty minute talk, she is suggesting that you can change your confidence just by changing your posture due to your body producing hormones. So her premise is “fake it til you make it.” Just pretend that you have the confidence to nail that interview or presentation. Then do it again. And again. And that seems fake in itself. Then the talk pivots from the chemical to the personal. She’s saying this because she’d nearly died in a car wreck in college. A once bright young woman woke up from a head injury that cost her IQ two standard deviations, her identity, and her self worth. With a great deal of struggle, she finished college in four years longer than her peers when people told her she couldn’t do it. Then she got into grad school and kept telling herself she didn’t belong while nearly quitting. She felt like a fraud. That’s when her sponsor forced her to fake it in the presentations she had to give. And she did. Over and over and over. Until one of her students came into her office much later and told her the same thing. That she didn’t belong. And that’s when Amy realized that she wasn’t faking it anymore. She had become what she had pretended to be in order to gain her confidence.
Now I don’t know how the Kembel twins somehow developed the exact same style. Were they were born filled with confidence and empathy? Did they practice together? Is it in their shared DNA? I bet that they had the same doubts that I’ve had, that Amy worked through, and that I see in other people often enough. Confidence is something that you can work at. I’d say that it’s impossible to successfully get up in front of a room full of people or talk with executives unless you’ve grown personally and feel at home with who you are. Taking baby steps and telling yourself that you can do it is self fulfilling over time as is telling yourself that you can’t. I wouldn’t call it faking. I’d call it a personal journey that never ends. Every time that self doubt rears its head, take a breath, and take that next step.