Curiosity and Confidence

I’m less sure of my points of view now than I was five years ago and each day I feel more at ease with my lack of certainty. In honesty, I’m proud of it. This feeling is a complete transformation from the shame I used to feel.

Shame is a powerful feeling. It makes us feel flawed, unworthy. And I have been trying for a long time to rid myself of the shame of not knowing, of the shame of not being sure. I paved this road to shamelessness with some bad decisions, with ego-driven discussions, racing to beat everyone in the room with an answer.

I had this stage soon after becoming a manager that, unwillingly, I focused on proving I was worthy of the job. Not on the problems I had to solve or the results I had to achieve. I was so insecure and anxious to measure myself against the people I admired, to prove that I could know as much as they did that I often didn’t give way to Curiosity. And Curiosity is a beautiful thing. The things I’ve built that I am most proud of came from riding on my Curiosity. Those were the times I felt most in sync with what I was doing.

“Curiosity says: No worries. I love a wild ride. I’m up for wherever this goes. And I’m in for however long it takes to get to the heart of the problem.”–Dr. Brene Brown writes about Curiosity in Dare to Lead–“I don’t have to know the answers or say the right thing, I just have to keep listening and keep questioning.” The problem is at the center. The focus is getting to the best answer.

I believe now my road to becoming a better manager is one towards more Curiosity, not Confidence. This belief comes from perceiving three things:

  1. I cannot know everything about a subject, ever;
  2. I need to get things right, not to be right;
  3. People grow by solving problems.

I cannot know everything about a subject, ever

People can become experts in things and still be surprised by simple things in their craft. The first commercially available wheeled suitcase only emerged in 1987. Think about that for a second. Thousands of people for thousands of years built suitcases, and it never occurred to them to put wheels under the heavy thing people carry around when traveling.

We start understanding more about a subject and grossly overestimate how much we know about it. We simply don't know just how much we don't know yet. We’re heavily biased. Evolution built us to believe that what we see is all there is. Our knowledge is very limited to the content we learn from and to our experiences. The sooner we genuinely absorb that, the sooner we will open ourselves to other people’s knowledge and experiences.

Graph showing the Dunning Kruger Effect I spent so much time in the peak of mount stupid 🤦🏾‍♂️

One of the experiences that validates this graph the most is our understanding of life. We're born and assume we don't know anything about life, we rely on people around us to tell us what we should do. Not long after, we reach our teens and suddenly we believe we know everything that is to know about living and about ourselves. Our parents' moderate opinions on topics attack us. Things are black and white and we're always right. It's usually there when life hits us hard with the realization that we're still very ignorant. That we're probably closer to being a child than to being wise. The more experiences we have that humble us, the more we learn. But we never go back to that level of confidence–hopefully.

I need to get things right, not to be right

“People who are right a lot, they listen a lot, and people who are right a lot, change their mind a lot,” Jeff Bezos said. “People who are right seek to dis-confirm their most profoundly held convictions, which is very unnatural for humans. Humans mostly, as we go about life, we’re very selective in the evidence we let seep into us, and we like to observe the evidence that confirms our pre-existing beliefs.”

It’s a tragedy to think that the right solution will always be in our heads. It won’t. Yet we must get to it. We admire people who are assertive and want to be so. We can’t get the details right all the time. We need the people who are committed to the problem to pitch in. Again, the problem we need to solve comes first. Our egoes can come last.

The need to be right all the time, to have the prevailing answer comes from insecurity. Not from experience, not from wanting the best results. We need to remind ourselves of that daily, it's not in human nature to seek disproving our own beliefs. But, trust me, we must.

People grow by solving problems.

When we ask questions instead of providing solutions, we allow people to solve the problem, to reach the answer themselves. When approached correctly, questions can motivate and inspire, generate novel ideas, and change how we perceive a problem.

The way we learn how to solve problems is by doing it. We can’t fully breakdown all we need to know about the proccess and teach it. It’s learned by practice, and volume counts a lot. Each time we jump to a solution, we’re robbing people of the opportunity to learn.

I often fail at this. I feel I don’t have the time, that I should be driving for results. But when I do, I’m always wrong. The long game is about people, so people will always come first.

Having shame is normal. We all have it–assuming I’m not talking to a psychopath. Speaking about it is uncomfortable, but it’s also necessary. The less we talk about shame, the more it controls us. I hope this helps you overcome this type of shame as much as it has helped me. I hope this opens you up to Curiosity.