Saturday Sage: Productive Doubting

When has doubting been a topic of enthusiastic conversation?

Most people don’t brag about doubt.

Novices are certain. A sage dances with doubt.

“… please run, do not walk, to the nearest exit when you hear so-called leaders being certain of any particular policy. Only in the absence of certainty can we have open-mindedness, mental flexibility and willingness to contemplate alternative ideas.” Robert Burton, Neurologist

Doubting is our advantage. Image of cows.

Pessimistic doubting:

Destructive doubt turns us into ice-figures. We can’t move! We can’t think and we can’t perform! 

You’re a pessimistic doubter if you…

  1. Sit back and disengage. “It is what it is.”
  2. Play it safe.
  3. Hide and avoid.
  4. Assume the worst.
  5. Steer clear of new experiences.
  6. Expect defeat before beginning.
  7. Explain magic tricks because magic is beneath your intelligence.
  8. Feel unwelcomed at parties. (That’s because you’re a killjoy.)
  9. Walk around with a crystal ball predicting defeat.
  10. Fear admitting doubt because it weakens you.
A doubting celebration. Image of people with a hand in the air.

Productive doubting:

“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” Francis Bacon, English Philosopher

A sage is a friend of doubt.

We admire people who admit their doubts. When we hear that our heroes have doubt, we sigh in relief knowing they are human.

It’s better to open a door to doubt than to maintain the façade of confidence.

“We should be unafraid to doubt. There is no believing without some doubting and believing is all the more robust for having experienced its’ doubts.” Justin Holcomb

71 percent of CEOs not only admit to doubt but also embrace it as a basis for better decisions. World Economic Forum

Productive doubt:

  1. Combats complacency.
  2. Drives investigation.
  3. Challenges thinking and current assumptions.
  4. Identifies weaknesses.
  5. Opens closed minds to new ideas and perspectives.
  6. Inspires innovation.
  7. Leads to humility.
  8. Increases motivation. Overconfidence is dangerous. Productive doubters seek answers.
  9. Spurs curiosity and tests assumptions.
  10. Generates openness to feedback.
  11. Eliminates roadblocks.
  12. Prevents stupid mistakes.

Knowledge thrives on doubt and discovery.

“Experienced leaders use doubt as an informational divining rod. Doubt illuminates the path to clarity.”   Bruce Eckfeldt – Forbes

Become a productive doubter

  1. Admit doubt openly.
  2. Confess doubt loudly.
  3. Embrace doubt lovingly.
  4. Describe doubt clearly.
  5. Answer doubt actively.

Productive doubting is a guide. Don’t ignore it. Explore it. Weaken doubt by naming it.

Make room for discovery.

Project 1:

Set aside 15-minutes to list your doubts about the present and future.

  1. Which doubts are holding you back?
  2. Which doubts call for exploration?
  3. Read your list of doubts aloud. Which doubts sound ridiculous when you hear them? Why?

Project 2:

Invite a friend to coffee and talk about pessimistic doubting and productive doubting. Name your doubts and ask, “Which of these doubts seem pessimistic and which seem productive?”

Choose one doubt and find a way to use it productively.

Set an appointment for next week to discuss what you did.

Project 3:

Make a T-Shirt that says: “I’m OK with doubting.”

The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” Robert Hughes

Doubting is a safe place to land if you have slowed down or given up.

This post is a collaboration between Dan Rockwell and Stan Endicott.

Note: I relax my 300-word limit on weekends.