Overconfidence Usually Pays Off


ManlymanThe people in white coats have come up with another best seller.  Published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, a paper by Jessica A. Kennedy, Cameron Anderson, and Don A Moore, with the cracking title; When overconfidence is revealed to others: Testing the status-enhancement theory of overconfidence.  This paper says that highly confident individuals get better results, regardless of whether their confidence is actually justified, or not.  The paper states that there appear to be so few real downsides to confidence that the potential benefits of overconfidence always outweigh the negative consequences.  In group dynamics, the members of a group seem to react positively to confident individuals.  Even when they know that the individual is very overconfident, and then fails to achieve an unrealistic goal, the other members of a group still react positively.

Who knew?  Well every sports fan, for a start.

motorcycleMost fans love to see their player / team attempt the nearly impossible.  The fans still love it when a player attempts the almost impossible, and fails.  That’s a far better spectacle than the safe play, time after time, after safe play time…  And, amazingly, every so often the nearly impossible comes off.  Sometimes the million to one chance works, it has to, it’s a law of physics.  The other thing is, the opposition has usually prepared for the expected play, the safe play.  Therefore, when the overconfident team / player attempts the almost impossible, that play is unexpected enough to carry a greater chance of success than the safe play.  One day he will get that bike into Switzerland.

ryan_reynoldsIn addition to that, confidence is in and of itself, intimidating to the opposition and attractive to your own side.  I have it on very good authority, from a number of very close friends, that hardly any women have ‘wimpy geeky guy, lacking in confidence,’ on their wish list.  When they are being honest, most women will admit to liking the ‘cocky’ man, the one who walks with a bit of a swagger, the one who stands up straight and looks them in the eye.  Action heroes tend to be the most confident guy in the group / piece / movie / book / play / room…  Psychologists know that the lasting power of a very confident first impression outweighs an only-average actual performance.

In other words the overconfident will win over the less confident, even when there is nothing else to separate their performances.  And, everybody and his dog knows that’s the way it’s going to happen.

It’s called Psychological Dominance, and it’s all about control.  It’s also very sexist.  It is very difficult for a woman to be psychologically dominant in a relationship / group.  This is explained by Social Dominance Theory, which plainly states that in almost all groups men have more power and higher status than women.  Partly this is down to the fact that men work to keep it that way, but mostly it’s down to biology and race memories.  In general, men are bigger, stronger, smarter, more driven, than women.  Sorry Ladies, but that’s just the way it is among mammals.

Malcolm Marshall - West IndiesIt is well know in sports that establishing psychological dominance over your opponent allows an easier victory than having to fight every inch of the way with someone who believes they are as good as you.  If you can convince your opponent that you are better than they are, then they have already lost.  Opponents will become tentative, miss opportunities they would routinely accept, become mentally exhausted, in fact they will give up.

This brutal paradigm applies especially in the more physically brutal sports.  Look at two boxers in the pre-match.  They are obviously fighting for psychological dominance before they even step into the ring.  It’s the same with tennis players, golfers, football teams, chess players…,  Back in the day, most players had lost against Roger Federer long before the first tennis racquet hit the first ball over the net.  And, everybody knew that.

MontyThe benefits of overconfidence also apply in the world of business, politics, the arts and entertainment, the military…,  Anyone standing against a Kennedy in Massachusetts has lost before the polls open, end everybody knows that.  Anyone trying to sell books against Amazon may as well give up before the ink is dry on the business plan, and everybody knows that.  Don’t put on a rock concert in the same town on the same night as The Rolling Stones.  And, it took Montgomery to beat the Desert Fox.

Personally, I have won some huge business deals based simply on the fact that I was utterly and totally convinced that I was better than everyone else.

Which brings us to the second most brutal of all areas where overconfidence pays off.  In group dynamics there is something called  the closed group.   This is when it’s difficult to get into the group, and once you are in you have to obey all of the group’s rules, written and unwritten, on pain of pain.  There is always a dominant figure in these groups, the one who calls all the shots, the big cheese, the boss.  Usually that person is the most confident in the group.  Not always.  Sometimes there is a member of the group who is so totally confident, (overconfident), that they don’t need to be the de-facto leader to get the group to do what they want.  Usually this person doesn’t even have to play by the rules, drifts in and out of the group as they please, obtains all of the benefits and more that the group has to offer, and suffers none of the downsides.

seveThis works because, as stated by Jessica Kennedy, Cameron Anderson, and Don Moore, people seem to put the overconfident, cocky, smiling, stand-up guy in a special category.  And, tellingly, don’t change their opinion much when actual performance isn’t quite as good as all that confidence would lead everyone to expect.  We all know and understand that the million-to-one shot doesn’t always come off.  But, we all know and understand that the million-to-one play works a lot more often than it should, and that only the overconfident guy can pull it off.

The real truth is;  If a manly man wants to really succeed with women, he needs to, (almost), always appear utterly, totally, completely confident in himself and his abilities.  However, so that he doesn’t appear arrogant, that same man must also be self-deprecating.

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