During the Ebola scare I noticed that our government leaders felt compelled to project that they had answers even though they clearly didn’t. They could not admit that they didn’t have the answer. They believe this gives us confidence in them. I recognized their behavior because I recently dealt with a situation at work where my boss could not admit he didn’t know how to solve a problem. He and I disagreed that admitting he didn’t have the answer was the best first step in finding the answer.
Personally, I don’t have confidence in people who project false confidence because I see them as acting out of fear. They are afraid to admit they don’t have all the answers because they rely heavily on previous experience to tell them what to do. This means they have to live and work in safe little boxes and they never venture out into the unknown because they don’t know how to solve problems that they haven’t solved before. So, what they are really trying to hide is that they don’t know how to solve new problems.
I thought my opinion was in the minority until I was on a self-development webinar last week led by a leading international Lean business consultant. According to the Lean consultant, the male-dominated workplace believes they have to know and must always project that they know how to make something happen. The male-dominated workplace is uncomfortable with uncertainty. This is because our culture believes that the higher up in an organization a person is, the more knowledge and experience they have – so therefore they must have the answer. The fear at play is vulnerability – if they don’t have the answer, then why do they deserve to be in that position?
The consultant advocates that managers and leaders admit what they don’t know and then apply a scientific way of thinking and problem solving. When faced with a problem we don’t know how to solve, then the best thing is to just try something. If it is wrong, then it will fail quickly and you learn from the failures.
The less you know about how to solve the problem the smaller the step you take. Again, if it is wrong then failure will come quickly. As you grow in experience in an area, you can take larger initial steps. Again, it is all about being comfortable taking action when there is uncertainty and not being afraid to fail. Failure should be an accepted part of learning.
This is a scientific approach to problem solving – you come up with a theory and try it. How many iterations of the light bulb did Edison go through before he came up with a solution that worked? Anyone who has ever invented anything new, has known failure and has not allowed failure to be labeled a “personal weakness.”
Don’t be afraid to fail early, fail fast and fail often. Just learn from the failure and try again. As the old saying goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
The consultant’s comments were geared towards the very male audience who were taught to project an answer and stick with it, try to make it work in order to prolong the admission of failure. For women we have a slightly different problem implementing this approach – we have to learn to act quickly, not plan and collaborate extensively first. I realize I use this approach and have taught it to others by a comment I make “I don’t know if it will work, but give it a whirl and see what happens.” I realize in writing this that I use this approach in cooking… a lot!!
So when you have a problem you don’t know how to solve, don’t be afraid to admit it and don’t be afraid to come up with an idea and give it a whirl! See what happens. If it doesn’t work, then you learned something and you just try something else.
Empowered women aren’t afraid to fail and learn from the failure.