As you know, last summer, I wrote an article called 10 Rules for Brilliant Women at The Huffington Post. I receive a lot of email about the article, but of the ten rules, this one seems to resonate the most:
Rule #5: Be an Arrogant Idiot: Of course I know you won’t, because you never could. But please, just be a little more of an arrogant idiot. You know those guys around the office who share their opinions without thinking, who rally everyone around their big (often unformed) ideas? Be more like them. Even if just a bit. You can afford to move a few inches in that direction.
Of course, I don’t really want more arrogant idiots in the world, male or female. Arrogant idiot behavior is taxing to be around, and it causes incredible amounts of waste — of human and financial capital —as people throw out a big idea, generate enthusiasm — and lead a team or company or organization into failure, wasting thousands or millions of dollars along the way — because they didn’t do the right kind of research, feedback-gathering, or humble assumption-testing first.
But many women err in the other direction. The “little voice” in our heads pops up, to say that if it was a great idea, someone else would have thought of it. That we couldn’t possibly have the expertise or qualifications to put forward an idea that will transform our company or industry or country or world.
I want to say: if not you, who? I mean that quite literally. If not a well-intended, caring, ethical and thoughtful person like you — then who?
Your idea doesn’t need to be perfect now — but it does need to be put out there — so that it can mature, get more nuanced, and have it’s impact on the world.
I recently got this note from a blog reader, in response to my post on Playing Big:
“One thing I’ve noticed with women is how frequently we feel the need to keep preparing: “I don’t know enough, I need more classes” when many men will jump in half prepared and just “go for it”!
What’s strange is that I see this same behavior in my children, my son will raise his hand first thing in class when he doesn’t even know the answer — he just wants to be called on and then he’ll figure something out! My daughters on the other hand would not even raise their hands unless they were sure about the answer. It seems in the nature versus nurture debate — nature definitely has the upper hand (or maybe its just testosterone!).”
I suspect the “why” is some combination of nature and nurture, but who knows? What matters is that we need to be aware of this tendency in ourselves and to respond consciously to it.
Many of us need to be should be saying things that make us feel as if we are being arrogant idiots — doing the things that activate the little voice in our heads that says, “Don’t say that! What do you know? Leave it up to them (the boss, the experts, etc.)…they most see something about this picture you don’t, etc.
So here’s a little quiz for you. Choose A or B, whichever you feel best applies to you.
A: I propose my own unique ideas when they are well researched, fully formed, and tested in some way. __
B: I propose my own unique ideas when they are still forming, untested, un-researched — and I’m not sure if they are right or not. __
A: I feel qualified to speak mainly on the things I have formal training or deep expertise in. __
B: I think my smarts, critical thinking skills, and unique way of looking at the world give me something valuable to contribute on a wide range of subjects and I share my opinions and ideas — even when I don’t have training or deep expertise in the topic at hand. __
A: It’s my responsibility to do all the due diligence I can to make sure an idea will succeed before I ask others to invest time or resources in it. ___
B: I’m willing to take a team along with me to pursue my vision or idea — even before I’m sure it will work. I mean, who can predict what will work? __
Where did you answer A and see that you’d like to move more in the B answer direction? What would that look like for you?
This isn’t just about being successful at work. The spiritual side to this is that it’s really about being true to yourself, honoring your voice, honoring the point of view that life/God/universe gave you — and trusting that it is your path to share that point of view. It’s also about being vulnerable, and about getting in the sandbox to play with the other kids.
It’s also about serving the world. I’m tired of feeling, after I came home from a walk with girlfriends on a Saturday morning, that I just heard ten brilliant insights and ideas that could change the world —from sane, ethical, smart, humble women. The problem is that those ideas are getting heard mostly on walks and over coffee and on phone calls among female friends around the world —when they also need to be taking center stage in op-ed pages, in board rooms, and on the floors of congress.
I think this is the era to change that, to take the points of view and perspectives and questions and ideas and new frameworks and innovations that are present but latent within us, and bring them forth—big, bold, revolutionary—into the culture.