January 18, 2007
News & Opinion: Business Books For January: Ego Check
Given headlines that executives like Bob Nardelli and Bill McGuire are getting, the timing of Mathew Hayward's new book Ego Check couldn't be better. Hayward believes it is hubris, what many consider the original deadly sin, to be the cuplrit for fallings of Enron, Worldcom, and Parmalat. Consider Hayward's four sources of Hubris:
If extraordinary confidence is grounded in the best available data, it is authentic, and a positive force for advancement. It is when when our confidence is false, when we are confident for the wrong reasons, that two serious problems arise. First, we are more suspectible to being overconfident than if our confidence were authentic. Second, such overconfidence is more likely to translate into actions and decisions that will damage others. Hubris refers to the damaging consequences that arise from the decisions and actions that reflect false confidence and the resulting overconfidence. As you'll learn in this book, I have determined that there are four sources of false confidence:
- Getting too full of ourselves. Excessive pride leads to a contrived view of who we are and an inflated view of our achievements and capabilities, one which often depends on external validation.
- Getting in our own way. Our pride can lead us to tackle singlehandedly decisions or actions that could be better addressed by or in conjunction with trusted advisors or a foil.
- Kidding ourselves about our situation. We indulge in false confidence when we fail to see, seek, share, and use full and balanced feedback to gain a more grounded assessment of our situation. We need accurate, pertinent, timely, and clear feedback, whether positive or negative, to ground our knowledge about what's going on around us.
- Discounting the need to manage tomorrow today. Because we may not know whether we're acting with unhealthy confidence, we need to manage the consequences of our decisions ahead of time. This is a question of playing out, rather than planning out, the consequences of our decisions. Whereas experimenting and probing allow us to see the consequences of our decisions firsthand, planning can increase our confidence without increasing our ability to complete the tasks at hand.
False confidence is to hubris what bad cholesterol is to heart disease. Just as the cure for heart disease is to reduce bad cholesterol rather than all cholesterol, the cure for hubris is to fight the sources of false confidence, rather than to reduce confidence altogether.