Seth Godin is trying to get you killed

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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.


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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3 responses to “Seth Godin is trying to get you killed”

  1. I once heard Art Williams says it’s easy to be positive when you’re winning, but incredibly hard when you’re not. Seth’s baseball analogy is appropriate here. When it’s the bottom of the 9th and you’re one run behind and are you the last batter with 2 strikes and the game is on you, it’s very hard to be confident. You might be Mickey Mantle but your confidence wains in moments like that. I think what he is saying is that in instances like these you choose to be confident. It’s not about past successes but your choice at that very moment.

  2. “Speak softly, and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

    In the age of social media and personal branding, this has gotten blurred. Now a lot of people are good at talking and acting confident, but there is ultimately no substance behind it. There is no value in it. We live in a time where everyone is speaking loudly, at the same time, and very few carry any sticks at all.

    I feel it is a combination of the two which creates truly effective confidence. It’s fine to have confidence, but it must be rooted in something real, either your ability, knowledge, or past success. Simply being confident for the sake of being confident, and having nothing to back it up, will work on the surface, but it will ultimately degrade your brand once people discover there is not more to it than a thin sheen.

  3. I don’t know whether Seth Godin is right or wrong but, speaking for all English majors, Chris, I truly appreciate your tip about Google etymology charts.

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