Sunday, April 13, 2008

Please keep reading, even if baseball isn't your thing. It gets better.*

Last night, two of the Phillies' broadcasters, Gary Matthews and Chris Wheeler, got into a discussion of the role confidence plays in athletic performance. The subject turned to Chicago White Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd, a former Phillies' player, who came close to throwing a no-hitter yesterday. Wheeler recalled reading something Floyd said in an interview, about how, though he always believed he could be a Major Leaguer pitcher, "he felt he had to experience some success before he could really feel confident in himself and his ability."

And Matthews—admittedly not the brightest bulb in the scoreboard—replied, "That's a very interesting point."

Ya think? Like it's something that would've never even occurred to him on its own: that you need to experience some degree of success at whatever it is you're doing—first—in order to become confident in that realm. Shows you how turned-around we've gotten in our thinking, thanks to the geniuses behind PMA/Empowerment. (Or in baseball's specific case, thanks to Sportsthink.) We've come to accept the idea that simply "pasting on" confidence will somehow carry the day for us, as former Yankee star Jim Bouton satirically put it in an interview for SHAM. In the same category is Rhonda Byrne, with that whole kooky notion that believing in something ensures getting it.

Folks, let's face it: The kind of confidence that the PMA crowd sells you isn't real. It's an affected, whistling-in-the-graveyard confidence that doesn't even come close to penetrating to the core. And how could it possibly? You know you haven't earned it!

Still, it sells, and sells wildly, because it's so much easier to get people to mimic confidence, to dutifully repeat their affirmations, to talk a good game...than it is to get them to actually perform at the level that produces the genuine article, which is to say, the earned kind of confidence. That was a very canny realization on the part of the pioneers and marketing gurus of the SHAMscape. They know that if they hold a seminar wherein they teach you how to coordinate your belts, ties and shoes, or how to carry yourself well, or what pat language to use during job interviews, those are elements you can master fairly easily. You can learn the surface trappings of Empowerment and leave that seminar feeling "successful." But nothing (meaningful) has changed. You're no more likely to succeed at your goals than you were before the seminar.** That's because they haven't taught you any of the specific competencies you'll need to achieve and sustain success. I'm reminded of something a top industrial trainer, Jay Kurtz, likes to say: "The most dangerous person in corporate America is the highly enthusiastic incompetent. He's always running too fast in the wrong direction." Worse, the enthusiastic incompetent persuades others—who foolishly mistake his enthusiasm for skill—to follow his lead.

Of course, you don't realize any of this until long after the fee for the seminar has appeared on your charge card.

* I think. Individual results may vary.
** If I'm going to be honest, I can't say that's entirely true. In fact, in today's culture, we swoon to such a degree over confidence and the people who appear to have it that we will sometimes give them opportunities we won't give to others. Ergo, people who master the trappings of confidence can sometimes fool us into taking them at face value. (That's the very charge that Barack Obama's critics level at him.) But that kind of superficial charisma doesn't last forever...especially after those people start screwing up in all sorts of ways we didn't expect from such "confident" people.

31 comments:

Debbie said...

Interesting post Steve.

If someone is working at a company and is promoted into a high management position or offered a partnership, it should become clear pretty quickly if they don't have the proper technical, business and interpersonal skills.

Hopefully it would be evident BEFORE the promotion is offered. Espcially in a highly technical industry, such as the one I work in. There's no room for highly confident engineers and scientists who don't have decent technical skills, scientific knowledge and the ability to keep up with new findings and theories. One could talk a good game until that first question from a client or board member.

Unfortunately, this is not always true in life, is it? There's a lot of people out there who have way more power than they should have, simply because they say the right things. Things people want to hear.

Jimmy Matthew Thompson said...

What exactly is the baseball secret signal for a pitcher to let his coach know that he just lost all confidence in himself and needs to be relieved.

Anonymous said...

You've nailed it on Obama, Steve, and the much-idolized JFK before him, who, had he lived, would have had Americans using all those bomb shelters they told us to build. Dammit!!! Why don't people just get it?!!!

As for sports, surely success comes from coordination, brains, and skill, not seminars. Is that so hard to understand? I used to see "Jeopardy" while walking on the treadmill at my gym. And I'd think, you know, I know more than pretty much everyone on that show, but if I actually competed, I'd be annihilated, not because I didn't know more than the other competitors, but because I wasn't coordinated enough to push the button as fast as they did!

Coordination is its own gift, and in the world of sports, it's not a trivial gift, as you must know with your baseball background. Too bad it doesn't get the recognition it deserves!

Jim Thompson said...

On the right to lead.... I just got lucky and randomly came across this quote rearranging some books that I keep nearby. Thought it was pertinent perhaps.

"He who is required by the necessity of his position to speak the highest things is compelled by the same necessity to exemplify the highest things"
- Pope Gregory the Great (460-604)

So much for progress...

Steven Sashen said...

Plus, confidence is totally optional and not necessary for any sort of success.

I keep a collection of interviews with highly "successful" people who discuss their complete lack of confidence, including Larry David (co-creator of Seinfeld) and Lance Armstrong (who, in a Charlie Rose interview, replied to Charlie's insistence that Lance must have been confident with, "No, Charlie, I hadn't won a race all year, I was 34 years old, and ANYTHING can happen in a race!")

Lately, I've been doing some heavy deadlifting (as part of my training as a Masters -- read: old -- sprinter) and I keep notes about my "confidence" and optimism during each day's lifting session. Much to my surprise, I discovered a DEFINITE pattern... on the days where I feel weak and am sure I *can't* lift well... those are the days I've set personal bests.

Steve Salerno said...

Uh-oh, Steven, we want to be careful here, because we seem be edging towards a mindset in which the lack of confidence is actually a "winning attitude" in its own right. (Imagine? "Learn the thinking habits of the Greats! Learn how you too can become totally insecure about your ability to compete...and therefore thrive!") But it's a funny thing, albeit purely anecdotal: I have talked to many ballplayers (baseball) at all levels, right on up to the pros, and one thing they tend to have in common--when they're weathering a rough patch--is that they had to reach the "you know what? I just don't give a s**t anymore" stage in order to relax enough to simply "go out and have fun."

But really, I prefer to stick to my original point: that there's very little correlation between mental attitude and performance that can be proved conclusively. Look at Tiger yesterday in the final round of the Masters. He hits that amazing shot out of the trees, then follows up with an equally great shot onto the green. So at this point he's probably got all that unbeatable "Tiger vibe" flowing through his veins, filling him with Confidence and the Promise of Victory. Plus, of course, the Big Mo has shifted his way.

And what does he do? He blows a (relatively) gimme putt.

Steven Sashen said...

No, we're in total agreement that mindset has no correlation to outcome.

Not even the "I don't give a s**t" mindset.

Clearly, you and I both agree that the outcome of any event, especially a sporting event, is 100% controlled by Zeus (to whom I offer my eternal loyalty for giving me the thoughts that led to this comment).

The Crack Emcee said...

Steve,

One point you're missing about those programs and seminars is how the people spreading the mindset have added others to the fold: individuals find they don't have to be good at anything because (if they're wearing the assigned colors and speaking the assigned language) they're now part of the "group" that can roll over others who notice their deficiencies. Even if Francine is an idiot, no one doing the same course as Francine is going to fire her. Only the person who notices the course is BS is in danger. And that, my friend, is the "real" point.

All the rest is just a diversion.

Steve Salerno said...

Steven: Precisely. And it is also my belief that the outcome of all sporting events, and their individual component parts, is predetermined (and has been ever since the Big Bang, and before). Now, if only I knew in what way they're predetermined, I could make a killing at the sports-book at my daughter's hotel in Vegas, when next I visit....

Steve Salerno said...

And apropos of Crack's point: As someone who writes extensively about business and also does a fair amount of corp-comm consulting, I know that it is highly perilous to one's career in corporate America to be the guy (or gal) who notices that the emperor is naked. I can't tell you how many companies these days have embraced all of the buzzword-based training programs--some of which have some merit, but most of which, in my view, instead of fostering TQM (for total-quality-management), instead foster something more like TBM (for a totally-b.s.-message). Yet all the good little worker bees are supposed to nod and smile and talk about how this new program has transformed their lives. And if they don't do that, they'd better watch their backs.

Elizabeth said...

This is slightly aside, but relevant to the subject of false confidence (and gender relations): An excellent opinion piece by Rebecca Solnit from yesterday's Los Angeles Times titled, "Men who explain things."
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-op-solnit13apr13,0,5754603.story

(BTW, these long URLs do come through on the blogger -- you have to click on them, copy and then paste as usual; even though you do not see the whole link, your computer does. Woman explaining things.)

Elizabeth said...

Ha. They (URLs) may not come through all the time, as I see now, so here is the full link, split in half (copy and paste without spaces):
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/
la-op-solnit13apr13,0,5754603.story

Anonymous said...

"I know that it is highly perilous to one's career in corporate America to be the guy (or gal) who notices that the emperor is naked. I can't tell you how many companies these days have embraced all of the buzzword-based training programs--some of which have some merit, but most of which, in my view, instead of fostering TQM (for total-quality-management), instead foster something more like TBM (for a totally-b.s.-message)."

You got that right! You want to get fired from a corporate job and have no future prospects? Tell your CEO his/her new crazy guru ideas are BS and you won't get another job.

mikecane2008 said...

>>>In fact, in today's culture, we swoon to such a degree over confidence and the people who appear to have it that we will sometimes give them opportunities we won't give to others. Ergo, people who master the trappings of confidence can sometimes fool us into taking them at face value.

Well, here I have to be a wee bit snide and lob your own words back at you:

Ya think?

Hello, that's the entire notion of a Con Artist! And they aren't a new phenomenon at all.

Steve Salerno said...

Mike, I can't prove empirically that people today are more gullible, or will go into a more pronounced "swoon," when they encounter a charismatic, confident force. However, I do think it stands to reason that, given today's 24/7 media circus, and the culture of celebrity worship, con artists can attain a far greater reach than ever before. We don't even seem to ask for substance anymore; we take celebrity as its own justification. And as I pointed out in my varied posts on The Secret, when you get into the realm of 8 or 10 million copies sold, you're not just talking about low-hanging fruit anymore. You're talking about a society that is, effectively, bought-in. Con artists used to do their dirty work in small settings, away from the limelight. Now the con artists are the darlings of the limelight. And that--to me--is a big difference.

Anonymous said...

"Con artists used to do their dirty work in small settings, away from the limelight. Now the con artists are the darlings of the limelight. And that--to me--is a big difference."

This is the area that astounds me about the guru/con artists of today-they are so bold and daring! They have websites and are either/or so arrogant that they have become so blatant. It’s as if they no longer try to con us. They just assume everyone is so gullible and dense that they will by the snake oil. What makes this phenomenon even more astonishing is how information accessible our society has become. We have the Internet to do research, but we don’t research anything anymore. It truly boggles my mind

Steve Salerno said...

Anon (most recent), your comment really goes to my point about Randy Pausch, in my previous SHAMblog item. No, I am not saying that Pausch is a con artist! I am simply saying, again, that we must decide, at this juncture in the great American journey, whether we're going to take a stand for common sense and intellect--and apply it right down the line--or whether we're going to abandon ourselves to the formless, mindless hope/hype that underlies so many SHAM-based activities. We have lost the reverence for quality thinking, or we've decided that it's not worth the effort. And yes, that makes us easy marks.

mikecane2008 said...

>>>However, I do think it stands to reason that, given today's 24/7 media circus, and the culture of celebrity worship, con artists can attain a far greater reach than ever before.

Steve, in an email I sent, I recommend the book "Charlatan." Actually, I think the phenomenon was *worse* in earlier days.

Think about it: How could someone, for example, in China find out that a doctor visiting them and getting the VIP treatment was actually considered a quack back in America? That's an example right from that book.

Also, Brinkley (the quack subject of the book) had a *one million watt* radio station. Now think about little radio broadcasting was done during his time and you can see he had a towering, thundering pulpit the likes of which even today's Oprah can't match (she's on but one hour; Brinkley *was* virtually 24/7/365!).

I must again recommend the book to you (and everyone reading this). It opened my eyes to several historical facts I'd been unaware of.

And even though I'm not finished yet, I'm already chanting, "Thank god there's the AMA!"

Anonymous said...

I am in academia and this has become the norm. I know of professors who have such tunnel vision that they don’t even do any research beyond what they must to keep their positions. More and more professionals have this myopic view that I never saw in previous times. People study what they want to study and to hell with anything else. They will go out and find the information that agrees with their opinions/ideas and be done with it. If the information does not reflect my opinion/world view, to hell with it!

Universities and colleges use to be about learning, but I see that less and less. Ben Stein has often observed that our culture now prizes ignorance over information. Remember Forrest Gump? My personal view is that we have entered a new dark ages in our society when it comes to information and learning. It truly scares me.

Anonymous said...

"Think about it: How could someone, for example, in China find out that a doctor visiting them and getting the VIP treatment was actually considered a quack back in America? That's an example right from that book."

Easy, look at Dr. Jan Adams. He was not board certified and he argues that he does not need to be. Hospitals do not agree with him, nor do the majority of his colleagues so what he was on Oprah. She didn’t check with the AMA either and states “it was not relevant.”
People had the AMA before, but never thought of using it. Even if they do get the information, do they have the skills to really assess it? Most people buy whatever sounds good or furthers their own agendas. How many times have I heard people tell me inaccurate information that they picked-up from somewhere? I cannot even count the times. Don't get me started on Wikipedia either. It is a nice place to wet one's curiosity, but not as a final authority.
This reminds me of Jenny McCarthy's stupid book about her son’s autism. She went to the University of Google she states. Heck, who needs a degree in medicine when you got Google? She came off like an ignorant whack job on Larry King, but parents are saying she is their savior. Will they be saying that when their children die of a preventable illness? She is actually harming the very cause she is trying to help by her tunnel vision and inability to look at scientific data. I could go on with outright ignorance, but my blood pressure is going up thinking about it.

Elizabeth said...

A complete aside, this:

I see that today's Oprah is more of Tolle. Can't bring myself to watch, but have been thinking about your, ahem, spiritual progress in the O/T classes. Would you care to update us?

Elizabeth said...

Wait, the awakening lessons were last night, right? LOL. Shows how much I know...

But tell us, please.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz et al, it pains me to say that I've been remiss: I haven't actually been "attending" classes. I just registered for the purpose of getting the lay of the land.

This might be a good time to mention that SHAMblog and its maintenance are actually a part-time activity for me. There's no way I could possibly keep current with all the assorted issues I raise and "personalities" I discuss. I would love to (I think; then again, at other times I think I rue the day I ever started writing about self-help and its foibles. It can be damn depressing!). But the financial (and other) exigencies of the real world are never far removed. That necessarily means that my coverage of some topics may be shallower than I'd like. In fact, one of my off-blog detractors once accused SHAMblog of being "a mile wide and a foot deep," and though I think that's far too sweeping a denunciation, I can see why someone would say it--especially if they're on the other side of the issue and looking to fend off my attacks.

I do the best I can, folks, amid all of my other (paying) activities. Leaving aside what I'd hope to accomplish in an ideal world, my realistic goal is to keep people interested, engaged and commenting--not to answer (or even address) every question that could be raised about every topic I bring up.

Steve Salerno said...

Did that last part sound snide? I didn't mean to. Just busy!

Elizabeth said...

Steve, while it is deeply disappointing to learn that blogging is not your full time occupation or not even the greatest joy of your life, I think we'll manage. Somehow.

Steve Salerno said...

Do I detect a note of sarcasm?

Elizabeth said...

(gasp) Them's fighting words!

God forbid; just gentle irony. :)

Cal said...

I have a question for you, Steve. (And I apologize if it's something that I should have contacted you about off-blog).

Do you consider the Inner Game books of Timothy Gallwey as Sportsthink? What about Bob Rotella. I know you mentioned Rotella in SHAM but I didn't get a sense of whether you thought what he does is really useful. He seems to be THE sports psychologist to see for the guys on the PGA Tour.

Elizabeth said...

All irony aside, can I plug something on SHAMblog? (If not, just delete it without a blink.)

It's tonight's Frontline, where T.R. Reid will show his experiences with healthcare systems in other free market democracies: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/
frontline/sickaroundtheworld/
(cut and paste with no spaces)

Should be informative (more so than American Idol;).

Jim Thompson said...

Forget the class, you already got it baby!!!

You know what Steve... There is a rumour going around. It turns out that this world is a sculptor's shop filled with statues. The rumour is that someday soon some of us statues are going to suddenly come to life. It may all happen with a hushed whisper in the ear.... something lovely for a soul-starved....

~J

Elizabeth said...

Hey, I like that, Jim T.!