3 hidden benefits of doubt (and why it’s vital for L&D)

by John Hilton16 Mar 2016
The German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said that “doubt grows with knowledge”.

Indeed, if you are experiencing self-doubt chances are that you are learning more, according to Dr Jason Fox, motivation strategy & design expert, and author of the new book ‘How to Lead a Quest: A handbook for pioneering executives’.    

Dr Fox explained to L&D Professional that the three hidden benefits of doubt are that doubt makes ideas more stronger, doubt makes life more wonderful and doubt makes leaders better.

Doubt makes ideas stronger because we ask better questions, we challenge our own thinking and we test our assumptions, which leads to stronger ideas, said Dr Fox.

“If you don’t have much doubt as a leader in a particular area then chances are you are quite naïve about it.If you have doubt as a leader in a particular area, chances are you know more about the area.” he added.

Doubt makes life more wonderful because we stop seeing things in terms of black and white, and right and wrong - we realise that there are multiple perspectives.

Dr Fox told L&D Professional about Marshall Rosenberg, a pioneer in non-violent communication, who said that there are at least two ways we can play life.

The first way is the game of who’s right, and that’s the game in which everyone loses.

“You either make yourself right and someone else wrong or yourself wrong and someone else right. That’s just a pathway for everyone being unhappy,” said Dr Fox.

“The alternative game we can play is the game of making life wonderful. That’s something where there are no clear right or wrong answers, there is always room for doubt and always room to explore. That’s a much healthier way to go about life.”

The third thing, Dr Fox added, is that doubt makes leaders better which is in contrast to the traditional leadership archetype of confidence, clarity and conviction. Leaders who are able to stay relevant are much better at embracing the hidden benefits of doubt.

“There’s this cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect which is a scenario in which people actually believe they are as good as they think they are, added Dr Fox.

“This is the worst type of thing you want in a leader because what this means is that they are not going to question themselves. They are going to believe they have all the answers and they will claim that there’s a right way of doing things.”

The alternative, said Dr Fox, is people who suffer from the imposter syndrome. These are people who think that sooner or later someone is going to realise that they are not as smart as people think they are.

“This actually leads to better leadership because these people who feel like they are a bit of an imposter are more likely to invest effort in their own learning,” he said.

"They are more likely to keep their skills sharp, to keep learning and asking those questions that keeps them relevant, as opposed to a leader who has supposedly got it all figured out."

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