My modesty is only half false. It is at least half earned.
During decades in the advertising business, friends and colleagues scolded me for being a little pessimistic, self-denigrating, too risk averse when selling.
The folks on my side of the table didn't like me warning the prospective customer that we just might not be a cure-all.
But that's the way I am.
I like ideas. Like most of us, I especially like my own ideas.
And, so, I'll try to persuade you to believe me.
But, for heaven's sake, I don't think my ideas are the be-all and end-all. I try to stay objective, even when selling.
I'll join you on your side of the table, helping you to assess — and knock down, if need be — my idea.
Last Week For Example
Driving around with my brother-in-law, I made some sort of ridiculous prediction: coffee would be a regulated drug by the time my grandchildren go to diners. Something like that.
He said, "C'mon." He's heard plenty of malarkey from me over the years. I figure, he married my sister; let's see what else we can talk him into.
But he wasn't buying this.
So I said, "You know whether I'm right. I was, let me just remind you, the person who predicted that…"
And I named some other ridiculous prediction I'd made years ago which never came to pass.
Is This A Failing Or An Admirable Trait?
It might have not been good for business. Some prospective clients took my caution and ran. Some employees also ran, choosing to work for people who were always right (and probably better looking).
But I held my uncertain ground. As the Professor taught, "I yam what I yam."
And two recent items in the press suggest that a healthy dose of self-doubt might be undoubtedly healthy:
- Peggy Noonan remembered William Safire in her Saturday Declarations column in The Wall Street Journal. In "Keeping America Safe From the Ranters: As the Elders of the media die, who'll replace them?", Ms. Noonan warns us that bombast — from the right, from the left — is the ruination of our democracy. I'm inclined to agree.
- Malcolm Gladwell (Blink!, The Tipping Point) remembered the collapse of Wall Street last year in the July 27th New Yorker's Dept. of Finance. In "Cocksure: Banks, battles, and the psychology of overconfidence," he compares Bear Stearns to the British on Gallipoli: too overconfident to assess risk and take appropriate action. And, strangely at Bear Stearns: not overconfident enough to maintain funders' and markets' support.
Both are good reading and, by no means, over your head.