The Role of Confidence in Innovation

by Justin Lee

So, I’m not the most confident guy out there. In fact, being shy and generally introverted (INFP, represent!), I tend not to exude “confidence”. But in coming up with a topic to write about, this got me thinking… maybe confidence isn’t the cliché assertive, narcissistic alpha-person that often comes to mind when confidence is being discussed. Maybe, instead, it includes those of us who are soft-spoken and tentative. What role does confidence really play in innovation anyways? Where does it serve us well, and where does it prevent us from moving forward? Let’s explore.

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Confidence and the concept of the “entrepreneur”

Like I started off, when we think of a person of innovation, we (or I) often think of the debonair entrepreneur—that smooth-talking guy who can motivate those around him by eloquently reading aloud from last year’s income tax form (cue smile and twinkling of teeth). This guy is not innovation… at least these actions are not. Yeah, yeah, he might know Steve Wozniak’s cousin or can secure VC funding in a snap, but that’s not innovation. (maybe I’m showing my bias a little here…)

This form of confidence—or one could even say, over confidence—can wreck innovation. You see, the deep roots of successful innovation are a complex structure made of humbleness, openness, empathy, and listening. Western societies concepts of confidence—pride, self-centeredness, and smooth-talking—run contrary to everything that makes for successful innovation practices.

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Confidence in an innovation team

Rarely (very rarely), innovation is a sole venture. Often there are other people involved, and just as often they are extremely involved. Let’s call this your “innovation team”. Sure, you might have your happy, shiny person out front as the “face” of the innovation, but equal to him you have every other member of this strong team. And it is with this strong team that confidence can benefit you.

Team dynamics are interesting. We all have our opinions and perspectives, but the key to success within a team starts with confidence. In this case, confidence is a reciprocal trait. To have confidence in your own self, it needs to be reinforced by those around you: your innovation team. To successfully do this, they need to elicit your opinion and ideas, support them through validation, and celebrate your contributions. On the flip side, you also need to do this for the fellow members in your team. The team needs to recognize the value that each member brings to the team—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That you (yes, you) are uniquely valued. This breeds confidence in your team, and eventually, your innovation.

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The beautiful insides of confidence

In innovation, the role of confidence can be broken down into smaller beneficial elements that see to innovation success.

One such example, perseverance, is a companion to confidence. Knowing that, if an obstacle appears, we will have the right people on our team to tackle that challenge and overcome it; hence, confidence.

Another building block of confidence is authenticity. Being your true self in the presence of others (often experts in their own right) can be difficult. But holding back your opinion or perspective, especially if it could help enhance the innovation or dodge an unforeseen “pothole”, doesn’t benefit anyone. The environment needs to be one where everyone feels comfortable and open (even expected) to speak up. And the onus of this task is on every single member of the team.

sample_3Similarly, another trait begetting of confidence is vulnerability. Well, vulnerability could work both pre- and post- confidence building (much like the other traits listed here), but in the case of pre-, being vulnerable stepping out into your world with your authentic self and having that positively received, supported, and nurtured grows ones confidence.

Along those lines, another one would be courage, a needed characteristic to step out of your inner safety and be exposed, going beyond any fear you may feel.

So now you’re starting to see how this complex concoction of human traits criss-cross to form confidence.

What other building blocks can you think of that create confidence in you and your innovation team on the way to success?

What I guess I’m getting at (and I didn’t really plan on getting to this point when I started writing this post), is that confidence does have it’s place in innovation. Actually, it is a very important, even integral, position in the art and process of innovation. Confidence should be soft and accepting, not hard and headstrong. The key is understanding the role confidence plays and allowing for and nurturing it.

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Justin LeeJustin Lee has assisted many employees to rise to their fullest potential that brings the companies that he worked for into their best profitability, most respected, and best growth potential. He developed training & incentive programs that helped bring a local company into the national arena. He created an environment that customers felt relaxed about every experience with the company and our product line. He always strives to eliminate concerns before any of our customers were affected.

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