PPPProse and Confidence: - Four P's #132

After 131 previous episodes of The Four P's, I've finally published a written version!

Welcome to my first (written) edition of the Four P’s, which takes all of the fun, insightful, useful, entertaining (and handsome) thoughts from my weekly video and podcast series… and puts it into a newsletter format and straight to your inbox. I figured why not add yet another layer of complexity to the Four P’s, and another line to my weekly checklist?!?

And if the Four P’s are new to you, check out previous episodes from Season 3 on this YouTube page. Or listen via podcast on the Spotify channel.
(Did you see my Q&A with NY Mets All-Star 1B Pete Alonso last week?)

So here we go… November 17, 2020. Hitting “Record” and “Send” now.

1. Something Practical: Putting the “Con” in Confidence

It's been nearly two years since I began my current role as the senior executive lead of my company. It's been truly an incredible experience, and while the autonomy and accountability has been steady, I cannot honestly say that my confidence levels are not always high. I think that’s natural, normal and understandable.

I've been thinking a lot about confidence lately. As a leader, confidence is essential. Without it, you won’t inspire anyone – and you may well miss out on important opportunities because you’ll be afraid to seize them. But overly simplistic, absolute confidence isn’t the answer, either. Putting on airs and overestimating your own competence will inevitably blow up in your face, and could permanently damage your credibility.

Clearly, the balance matters… and being self-aware of when confidence is high or low, and reconciling with the results are critical for growth. Some things I've learned along the way... success is NOT simply contingent upon believing in yourself. I can think of plenty of instances where overconfidence can be more harmful to your chances at success than underconfidence - see: The 45th President, who has proven that contrary to what many think, overconfidence isn’t harmless.

Decision-making is hard. People rarely have enough information to make a truly educated decision, and so they depend on their intuition to make choices, even important ones. But intuition can – and often does – lead to mistakes. The lesson here is to use confidence to help you start the work you need to succeed, but not bypass it. I'm in the midst of budget planning for 2021, and there's never been more uncertainty heading into a new year. So I don’t take anything for granted, and will work to lock in whatever I forecast.

What's so interesting about confidence is that what you portray, or see externally, from others may not be a true indication of confidence. With difficult tasks, it's often easy to forget that others are struggling as well. Underconfidence is most common when people simultaneously know the limits of their own abilities but don't really know where or how or why others are limited. Then we may become discouraged not because you’re struggling more than others, but because you didn’t see the others struggling.

So, the budgeting exercise I'm in the midst of right now is a great example. Making forecasts that consider a range of possible outcomes can help mitigate or avoid overconfidence. Most people are generally pretty bad at forecasting. We tend to be too specific in our predictions. So to counteract this tendency, try to allow for uncertainty with weighted forecasts... ranges. Some call this "Expected value," which an be a powerful tool for forecasting. It’s pretty simple: instead of choosing a single outcome, assign probabilities, or weighted percentages to a range of outcomes. When you have a list of probabilities, you can then average out the outcomes and get a mathematical estimate of when you’ll actually be done.

Another thing that has helped me to be smarter and more likely to succeed - crowdsourcing. Including others we trust and considering their perspectives helps us to challenge our own biases. I said this last week while talking about mentorship, but disagreement can be an essential tool in improving our forecasting ability. Learning how and why others disagree can help us expand our own thinking and balance out the errors each person tends to make. Good leaders, good organizations bring together people with a range of perspectives to raise alternate ideas and produce better decisions. It takes courage to invite such dissent, but the end result is better decision-making.

So in these groups, a balance of confidence means finding the middle path to communicate honestly about what you don’t know, drawing upon your experience and ability to convey credible and well-calibrated information. This is what great leaders do best. And perhaps no area of life is more closely linked with confidence than leadership. A leader without confidence isn’t a leader at all; If you don’t believe in your own ability, you’ll struggle to make decisions and earn the respect of the people you’re leading. This includes being open to information and being aware of what you don’t know, and knowing that clarity is essential, both for yourself and your team. This starts with setting clear goals, but that isn’t enough. Leaders also have to make sure they’re receiving all the available information – not just the things they want to hear.

Ultimately, great leaders are confident enough to build organizations where people can raise questions and concerns, even if they go against what leadership originally believed. It’s difficult to remain truly open to all information, but remember: the more information you have, the more perfect your confidence will be.

2. Something Professional: Budgets for 2021

As we get into these later stages of November into December, one thing many of us are feeling and working on no matter the industry or field… Yup. Budget planning! (Didn’t I just mention this above?) In addition to revenue forecasting, staff costs and other projections, our marketing budgets and plan is part of my remit. Our jobs, as marketers for clients, if to find creative, innovative ways to connect consumers. Well the same holds for us, looking to build that awareness, trial and conversion with brand-side marketers, leaders and decision-makers.

Now is about when I'd be looking at the 2021 calendar to identify the right partnerships, events, networking opportunities, conferences, biz dev forums, thought leadership activities and other ideas, and make some decisions about what to sponsor, what to speak at and what to attend. But this past year cannot truly be a real indication of what next year will look like... or will it?

Brand awareness for revelation will not as big of a priority heading into next year, but finding better, more efficient ways to convey the value proposition of what we can offer to brand marketers is more about engagement and conversion now. Working our way down that funnel... Live, in-person events are not happening. SxSW, CES, Cannes Lions, ANA and AdWeek Summits are all now virtual, which are just not as ideal for meeting and connecting with people.

The great Ann Handley asked this question in her Total Annarchy newsletter a few weeks back: Can virtual events be as good as in-person events? The answer is a solid "maybe," but it truly depends on what you're trying to achieve. For me, us, my company... we have different objectives. Some of the panels and presentations are meaningful, enlightening and insightful. Some are ok. Some are worthless. I often found myself at these conferences waiting, counting down the minutes to the breaks, the networking sessions, the lunches and dinners and happy hours to meet people, to talk, to get to know people.

That's what I've missed most this year, both professionally and personally. Virtual conferences are so much harder for serendipitous connections. Sure, we've had some virtual success and grown our client roster this year, replicating the IRL process of connecting with new contacts all the way through closing deals and producing work. But, frankly, it's much harder. Maybe by the second half of the year things might get back on track, but I'm hot holding my breath. (Actually, I am holding IN my breath, thanks to masks, but you know what I mean.)

If you've got great ideas for how to market agency and consultancy services to brands, Id love to hear them... Because maybe 2021 is the year we go all-in and take over the Marketing Brew daily email newsletter for a month? What do you think?

3. Something Personal: Tennis, Everyone?

You may not look at me and immediately think, "Now THAT'S an athlete." But the truth is, I grew up playing many sports, and being good enough at many of them to play competitively. One sport I did play a lot of, but never at a truly competitive level, was tennis. I took group lessons with friends during elementary school, and played a LOT with some great coaches and counselors at sleepaway camp. But once I got to high school, I didn't play often enough, and then never. Until a month ago, I hadn't touched a racket in 25 years.

My son has been taking lessons for years at a private club, but with the rise of COVID, we switched to outdoor lessons with a coach (and former NCAA champion) at an outdoor park. Meaning I could hit around on an adjacent court while he was practicing. Even after all these years, my muscle memory is still in tact and my swing is still pure. Could I play at a competitive level? Definitely not. But can I hold my own and play respectably with just about anyone without embarrassment? Sure. Kind of like riding a bike, which I also hadn't done for two decades until earlier this year, and got back on without missing a beat.

So a key lesson here: While it might be too late and we may very well be too far gone in years to learn to do some new things in life, you're never too old to tap back into things you've already learned and know how to do. So what old skill should I revisit next? Anyone have a saxophone I could borrow for a spell?

4. Something Political: The Red Wave... of COVID Deaths

It's been a year of learning... learning that our governments may not always be able to protect us. Learning that a large portion of our country will ignore obvious facts, science and data to believe blatantly obvious lies that put their lives in danger. Learning the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic... and now that COVID is surging again... what's the next step above this?

More than 1,000 Americans are dying of the Coronavirus every day on average, a 50 percent increase in the past month. By some estimates, the U.S. may soon be on track to reach or exceed the spring peak, when as many as 2,200 people were dying from the Coronavirus every day. 

And while we know there was an election earlier this month, the president has not attended a Coronavirus Task Force meeting in 'at least five months. Meaning since June. Most of us are capable of multi-tasking, but this president doesn't seem to be one of them. And it's a good thing he's only got two months left. But a lot more pain and suffering is coming in these next two months because of his inaction. and it's clear that he wants to leave Joe Biden with a burning house and no other choice but to shut down the country... and then tell us he "told us so."

The good news is that some of the most reluctant governors to act are starting to wake up. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, which has critically understaffed hospitals and the highest per capita rates for new Coronavirus cases and deaths in the U.S., put in place a mask mandate and new limits on indoor dining. New Mexico announced the nation’s most sweeping statewide measure of the fall season, issuing a two-week “stay at home” order that began this Monday. And Oregon's Governor Kate Brown placed the state in a partial lockdown for two weeks starting on Wednesday.

But the lack of leadership at a federal level, when coordinated efforts could save lives, is truly criminal. And if you're waiting for the vaccine to quell this storm, do you really trust this current administration to handle things properly, or even be honest about it?

Thanks for reading. See you next week,