Confidence is essential for success in knowledge work, which involves always learning, being creative, and problem solving. But what exactly is confidence, where does it come from, and how can we develop it?
In simple terms, confidence is the ability to manage risk by estimating what the future might be like and taking actions that lead to good outcomes. It’s like playing a video game where you explore new paths and try new things, but also learn from mistakes and make adjustments. This is similar to a type of artificial intelligence called reinforcement learning, which helps machines learn and improve over time (see Google’s AlphaGo or OpenAI’s Five).
However, too much confidence without enough exploration can lead to overconfidence and poor decision-making. Just like in sports, where taking too many risks can result in losing the game. It’s important to find a balance between exploiting what we know and exploring new possibilities.
In knowledge work, such as being a product manager writing a proposal for a new product, there is often a high degree of ambiguity and uncertainty. You must deal with shifting priorities, unclear budgets, and changing scopes. These challenges require confidence to tackle and are why knowledge workers are some of the most highly paid professionals.
On the other hand, jobs with clear instructions and little ambiguity, such as working in a fast-food restaurant or packing boxes at Amazon, require less confidence and are therefore less highly paid because more people are willing to do them. To succeed in knowledge work, we need to embrace the unknown and continually learn and adapt.
Developing confidence requires a forgiving mindset that accepts mistakes as opportunities for growth. Just like in martial arts, where having a white belt mindset means acknowledging that there’s always more to learn and room for improvement.
Confidence is essential for success in knowledge work, which requires continual learning, creativity, and adaptability. It’s about finding a balance between exploiting what we know and exploring new possibilities. By developing a forgiving and open mindset, we can embrace the unknown and continually grow our confidence, just like in reinforcement learning.
To end this post, I’d like to share a version of this article written by ChatGPT for a 5-year-old, which I too find helpful because its so friendly and approachable.
Confidence means believing in yourself and trying new things even if they are scary. Sometimes you might make mistakes, but that’s okay because it helps you learn and get better. Some jobs are easy and anyone can do them, like working at a fast-food restaurant. But other jobs are harder and need more confidence, like being an inventor. Those jobs pay more because they are more challenging. Remember to always try your best and be confident in yourself!
Acknowledgement: I wrote this with the help of GPT-4, an AI language model designed by OpenAI.