Seth Godin is trying to get you killed

Seth Godin is trying to get you killed. Perhaps not in a literal, go jump off a bridge sense, but his recent advice about not requiring success before you have confidence is dangerous.

Take a moment to think about confidence. Go back to ancient Rome, in which the word confidere means to have full trust.

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The most dangerous thing you can do is to express full trust in something that isn’t trustworthy. One of my martial arts teachers, Ken Savage, refers to this often as “reaching for something that isn’t there”, in the sense of trying to use a skill that you haven’t learned fully, and thus is unworthy of your full trust – your confidence.

Contrary to what Seth says, confidence is born out of repeated success. Success is an absolute prerequisite of confidence, because repeatable, reliable success creates your full trust in whatever it is you’re doing. Your full trust also implies that you know what you don’t fully trust, what your limitations are, what you can’t do, and if you are in a make-or-break situation where you need as sure an outcome as possible, you go with what you know works, what you know to be fully trustworthy.

Charging into a dangerous situation without a toolkit of methods and tools that you know you can trust fully isn’t confidence. That’s recklessness, and in a truly dangerous situation, be it a martial confrontation, or only two months’ marketing budget left for a 10 month year, you cannot afford to be reckless. There is a time and place for experimentation – when the stakes are low, when you’re in a learning environment. You can be a little reckless on the test server. You can be a little reckless with gloves on in a safe dojo with caring instructors. You absolutely cannot be reckless if the stakes are high. Unwarranted confidence will get you killed. It will get your business killed.

Sorry, Seth; on this we have to disagree. Confidence doesn’t just require success – confidence is born of it.

Incidentally, if you like the graphic above, type “etymology of confidence” into Google to get those very cool etymology charts.


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The first step towards an automation mindset

For many jobs, a “one-off” task quickly becomes a standard, and if that one-off task is labor-intensive, you can end up creating a lot of work for yourself or your coworkers. How do you avoid making a ton of work for yourself that’s probably unnecessary? The answer lies in a mindset change, from “how do I do this?” to “how can this be automated”? After all, if it’s valuable, someone will likely ask you to do it again.

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That mindset is the mindset of the folks who work at companies like Google, folks who focus on algorithmic solutions to problems rather than single-instance uses of people’s time. If you’re not a programmer or developer, however, that can be a difficult mindset to begin using. How do you get started thinking in an algorithmic way?

The easiest trick is one that’s often a joke punchline in tech circles, but can legitimately begin to alter your thinking towards an automation mindset. Every time you face a task, ask yourself if there’s an app for that. For example, I was going to sync up some folders on my Mac. Is there an app for that? There is – it’s actually built into the Mac, a command-line app called rsync. Typing rsync -rtv /sourcedirectory /targetdirectory at the command line (obviously substituting your own directories where indicated) will sync up two folders.

By starting to think of problem solutions in the context of pre-built apps that could solve your problem, you change your thinking from one of labor (how do I do that) to one of automation (someone must have written a piece of software to do that). That begins to make processes more repeatable, more scalable, and more reliable. In the example above, I would no longer need to waste my time or someone else’s time making sure two folders had the same contents. I’d just run that little program as often as needed.

Some things don’t have apps. Some things shouldn’t have apps. But where and when practical and reasonable, look for an app as the first step towards bringing more automation solutions to your work.


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Equitation

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One of the joys I’ve experienced recently is watching my daughter learning the art of riding horses. At her first competition (after a few months of lessons), I learned about one of the categories on which she was being judged, something called equitation. I, having never ridden a horse besides the kiddie pony ride horses when I was a child, had no idea what equitation was.

It turns out that equitation is a fancy word for horsemanship, and it’s about the rider’s poise, command, and presence while on a horse, from basics like the cleanliness of the horse to the rider’s posture, and most importantly, the ability of the rider to control the horse with a commanding but relaxed presence.

I suspect equitation has its roots in the military application of horsemanship. The ability to control a horse with a relaxed command means that a horse is responsive to you. That skill would be handy in less calm situations such as a battlefield, where keeping order in a cavalry line would mean not only your own safety, but preventing panic from spreading to other horses in the line.

In watching my daughter’s lessons, one of the most important factors in equitation is your own attitude, energy, and approach to the horse. If you train with the horse and learn its idiosyncrasies, if you know its limitations, if you reward it amply and maintain your own calm and poise when it misbehaves, in time it learns to trust you and obey you. If your behavior towards it is obnoxious, at best it’s not going to do what you want and at worst it’s going to throw you, which can lead to serious injury or death.

In thinking about discussions in recent days about girls, bossiness, and what not to say, maybe we should take a fresh look at the very old art of equitation for some answers about what we do want girls to learn about leadership. While what we don’t want to call them matters, I think it’s equally or more important that we positively define what we do want them to be. The traits that make for outstanding command over your horse are traits that make for an outstanding leader as well.


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