Tag Archives: confidence

Are experts overrated?

In my work with young people who are thinking about setting up their own business, I constantly stress the importance of honesty. I mean honesty with themselves as much as with anything else. Being self-aware and having the confidence to share personal weaknesses, as well as strengths, can be very powerful in our famous-for-15-minutes-for-doing-nothing society.

Of course, we’re taught to ‘present our best side’ at job interviews and on CVs and a certain amount of ‘embellishment of the facts’ is almost expected. But I tell young entrepreneurs when it comes to business plans, it’s best to be realistic but positive. Business pitches with sky-high sales expectations and false claims about relevant skills (‘extensive experience in market gardening’ was how one young man described his two-week work placement) will be found out and can ruin reputations.

Which is not to say we have to spend all our time telling others why we’re a liability rather than an asset – that’s not the way to make friends and influence people.

In a previous advisory role I worked with charities and social enterprises and, at a first meeting, I’d say “tell me a bit about your organisation”. I still remember the Chief Officer who said “we’re good at this, this and this, we need to get better at this, this and this”. Here was someone I could work with – he knew what he didn’t know (if that doesn’t sound too Donald Rumsfeld). Not surprisingly I’ve forgotten those who, at that first meeting, denied they had any areas for improvement (in which case, why was I being brought in to support them?)

Readers of earlier blogs will know of my love of language and my loathing of carelessly used abbreviations, jargon, and red-rag words such as ‘deliver’ and ‘engage’ which are so vague as to be meaningless. It’s a lexicon for self-styled experts, so insecure in their knowledge and status that they feel the need to dispense wheelbarrow loads of bullshit.

Whenever I doubt my own knowledge (more often than not!) I tell myself that a real expert is prepared to admit their ignorance. Many years ago I was at a public meeting with the then Chairman of the Forestry Commission. He was asked an apparently very straight forward questions by a lad in his early teens. Lord Taylor (the ‘tree expert’) paused for a moment then said, “you won’t believe this, but I don’t know the answer to that… but I’ll find out and let you know.

And even if you are an expert – with certificates, letters after your name, and all the associated bells and whistles to prove it – don’t think you can sit back and bask in the glory. There’s something else to keep you awake at night – the ‘impostor syndrome’. Also known as the fraud syndrome, the term was coined as recently as 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. It afflicts high-achieving individuals who are unable to acknowledge and accept their accomplishments and, as a result, they have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud’.

So maybe bullshitting has its appeal after all…

Something to sing about

concert posterThere has been much discussion recently about football managers, their relationships with the players and, by extension, their influence on match results. There are well-known studies of the effect a new manager taking charge of a failing team can have – achieving instant success (if only for a game or two).

On the same day in December 2015 that the Guardian newspaper published an article by Oliver Burkeman explaining why singing in a choir makes you happy, I discovered the benefit of having a new team manager (or Musical Director to be more accurate) in charge of our local choir – the Royston Choral Society.

I started singing in the choir in 2000. I missed the team-work associated with playing football and I felt that my physical fitness could do with a boost. I started running for fitness and joined the choir for the team-work. The running also helped when I was late for our weekly rehearsals…

And that’s been the case for the past 15 years with a Musical Director who lived music 24 hours a day and showcased the best the choir could manage for up to five concerts a year. I suppose I’d accepted that we’d achieved a creditable standard but didn’t have the potential to do much more.

But then poor health forced our incumbent Musical Director to step down and, in September of this year, we ‘signed’ a new manager. For me this was both scary and exciting having only sung under the leadership of the previous conductor.  After a comprehensive interview process there was agreement between choir members and the panel as to who was the best of the three candidates.

And we are now discovering how right we were with the appointment. When I joined I was told that singing in the choir was firstly about having fun and secondly about making a good sound. We’re now doing both by the bucket-load!

Our new Musical Director and conductor Andrew O’Brien has managed, in just three months, to convince us we can perform better, to sing with feeling (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious) and to sing at a higher standard than I could ever have imagined – all with largely the same group of (ageing) singers.

Our December Christmas concert was an amazing experience – for both choir and audience. Two concert-goers mouthed ‘wow’ after one of our pieces; I’ve never seen that happen before in my 15 years with the Royston Choral Society.

In football, the instant success of the new manager is often followed by a swift slide back to more familiar poor results. I refuse to believe our musical team will return to a lower division while our new manager Andy is in the dugout.

Oliver Burkeman’s article on the delights of singing in a choir is at http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/dec/18/why-singing-makes-people-happy-oliver-burkeman

Enterprise essential – Trust your intuition

If your ideas come out of your years of experience in a particular field, they are likely to be worth pursuing. Work at them until they take off, or prove to be dead ducks. When you ditch doomed ideas, don’t take it as personal failure – true entrepreneurs have the self-belief to bounce back quickly.