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As a design professor at the School of Visual Arts, each semester I do an impromptu survey of shyness in my class by simply asking who in the group believes they are shy. Inevitably, at least three quarters of the students raise their hands… albeit only shoulder high. I don’t believe this phenomenon is limited to students of the visual arts, but do other professions like accountants or TV repairmen suffer from this? Are we all shy?
Shyness is not genetic. At least it is not proven to be. There is no gene for it. It’s my belief that it’s cultivated within us, by environment, by family and just dumb luck. As a child, I was terribly shy. I don’t believe I was born this way. As the third of three children, I was always introduced as, “This is my baby, the shy one.” And thus I became shy. A habit was born. I was told by authority that I was shy, and I began wearing it around like I owned it.
Unfortunately, as an adult I found this habit does not serve me well. As a designer and lecturer I frequently find myself on stage or in front of a camera and have to “play” someone who is comfortable being there. Years of practice have lessened my fears, but I still have to summon the courage to walk confidently to the podium.
I was told by authority that I was shy, and I began wearing it around like I owned it.
I have come to believe that shyness is more a habit than a hard-wired personal quality. Similarly, confidence has always seemed like one of those ambiguous traits, like willpower or intuition, that can be practiced, exercised and strengthened, like a muscle. But just like any physical exercise, it’s always hard and takes constant work. And, more importantly, constant awareness.
My own definition of confidence is “being there.” This means being in the moment and acting with intention, not distracted by second thoughts or being “in your head.” Not listening to your inner critics or assuming what others are thinking of you, judging or presupposing “their” reaction instead of just moving forward—and confidently.
In my own life, defeating my shy default setting is something I have to deal with every week. In my professional efforts to teach to a broader audience, to answer questions and give advice, I have had to take a big step out of my own comfort zone with weekly short videos called “Q+A Tuesday.” Prior to each taping session begins a regular and tedious laundry list of inner-trepidation and self-doubt. My inner critics start in with, “I’m too dumb/ugly/ young… It won’t be good/work… They will laugh/not watch/cast stones….” You may be familiar with the conversation.
Confidence means being in the moment and acting with intention, not distracted by second thoughts or in your head.
Why do we get so caught up in this “too much thinking?” What’s the worst thing that could happen? The answer is failure. Most of us are so afraid of failing that we don’t even risk it. And what’s worse, risk and rejection become something to avoid at all costs. A habit is formed. We close doors that may lead to opportunities and stop putting ourselves out there for other people to respond to. This fear of rejection is normal. Everyone shies away and has moments, or extended moments, of self-doubt. But the fear is also a test, it means you are onto something and you should pay attention to it and not shy away.
The doubt comes not only from the inside, from your own personal critics, but also from without via our friends, family and well-wishers whose concern it is to keep you out of harm’s way and within your—or possibly their own—comfort zone. Here you need to trust yourself, lean into the fear, and resist the “be like us” mentality from a society that wants you to fit in.
Your pursuit of personal greatness challenges others to fear for their own causes, their own battles and pursuits. Your freedom is a reminder of their own imaginary restraints and limitations. Yet, for others, your confidence will be a beacon. People follow conviction, assertive advice and brave leaders, and there’s nothing more powerful than a confident man or woman.
Trust yourself, lean into the fear, and resist the “be like us” mentality from a society that wants you to fit in.
The point is not to create a protective, alternate super-ego or some indomitable spirit within, but being conscious and in charge of the fear that tends to run our lives. To be comfortable with who we are, comfortable with the fear and comfortable with doubt. Confidence is accepting fear and self-doubt as part of our lives, and not living under it.
Confidence comes from a place of abundance and wealth. It gives us the courage and freedom to move forward, to ask for help, to ask for more, to ask for what you deserve. To be able to begin before you’re ready and have the willingness to fail. And to be cool with failure as well.
– This opinion piece comes from artist/designer James Victore, who has been ignoring the status quo and lighting fires under asses for 20+ years. You can learn more about him in this 99% interview, and follow him @jamesvictore.
Whenever I try to conjure up what innovation looks like, the same slideshow of images clicks across my mind: that photo of Einstein with his tongue sticking out, Edison with his light bulb, Steve Jobs onstage in his black turtleneck, introducing the latest iThing. Unoriginal and overdone, to be sure. And not all that accurate.
Because it’s not just about that romantic “ah ha!” moment in front of a chalkboard or a cocktail napkin, it’s about the nitty-gritty work that comes after the idea: getting it accepted and implemented. Who are these faces? And, most importantly, as I’m sure you’re all asking yourselves: where do I fit in?
The Forbes Insights study surveyed more than 1,200 executives in Europe across a range of topics and themes. Using a series of questions about their attitudes, beliefs, priorities and behaviors, coupled with a look at the external forces that can either foster – or desiccate – an innovative environment, a picture emerged of five key personality types the play a role in the innovation cycle.
This last piece – the corporate environment – is a stealth factor that can make or break the potential even the most innovative individual. Look at it this way: a blue whale is the largest animal known ever to have existed, but if you tried to put it in a freshwater lake, it wouldn’t survive. Well, that and it would displace a lot of water. My point? Even the largest and mightiest of creatures can’t thrive in an environment that doesn’t nurture them.
The themes surveyed in the study are universal; despite the focus on European executives, these personalities are applicable across oceans and cultures. The full study, available here, provides further breakdown of where these personality types congregate by industry, company size and job function.
I’ll leave it to you to decide which one fits you best . You may even see a little of yourself in more than one group. But remember, none of these are bad. All play crucial roles in developing an idea, pushing it up the corporate channels, developing a strategy and overseeing execution and implementation. These are all pieces of a puzzle, arteries leading to the beating heart of corporate innovation. Wow – can I make that sound any more dramatic?
The Five Personality Types of Innovation: a breakdown
Movers and Shakers. With a strong personal drive, these are leaders. Targets and rewards motivate them strongly, but a major incentive for this group is the idea of creating a legacy and wielding influence over others. These are the ones who like being in the front, driving projects forward (and maybe promoting themselves in the process), but at the end of the day, they provide the push to get things done. On the flip side, they can be a bit arrogant, and impatient with teamwork. Movers and Shakers tend to cluster in risk and corporate strategy, in the private equity and media industries, at mid-size companies; though they comprise 22% of total executives, at companies with revenues of $25 million to $1 billion, Movers and Shakers can encompass up to one-third of the executive suite.
Experimenters. Persistent and open to all new things, experimenters are perhaps the perfect combination for bringing a new idea through the various phases of development and execution. “Where there is a will, there is a way,” is perhaps the best way to describe them. They’re perfectionists and tend to be workaholics, most likely because it takes an incredible amount of dedication, time and hard work to push through an idea or initiative that hasn’t yet caught on. They take deep pride in their achievements, but they also enjoy sharing their expertise with others; they’re that intense colleague who feels passionately about what they do and makes everyone else feel guilty for daydreaming during the meeting about what they plan on making for dinner that night. Because they’re so persistent, even in the face of sometimes considerable pushback, they’re crucial to the innovation cycle. They tend to be risk-takers, and comprise about 16% of executives – and are most likely to be found in mid-size firms of $100 million to $1 billion (20%). Surprisingly, they’re least likely to be CEOs or COOs – just 14% and 15%, respectively, are Experimenters.
Star Pupils. Do you remember those kids in grade school who sat up in the front, whose hands were the first in the air anytime the teacher asked a question? Maybe they even shouted out “Ooh! Ooh!” too just to get the teacher to notice them first? This is the segment of the executive population those kids grew into. They’re good at…well, they’re good at everything, really: developing their personal brand, seeking out and cultivating the right mentors, identifying colleagues’ best talents and putting them to their best use. Somehow, they seem to be able to rise through the ranks and make things happen, even when corporate culture seems stacked against them. Unsurprisingly, CEOs tend to be Star Pupils. What’s most interesting about this group, though, is the fact that, at 24% of corporate executives, they don’t seem to cluster in any one particular job function, industry or company size; rather, they can grow and thrive anywhere: IT, finance, start-ups, established MNCs. They’re the stem cells of the business world.
Controllers. Uncomfortable with risk, Controllers thrive on structure and shy away from more nebulous projects. Above all, they prefer to be in control of their domain and like to have everything in its place. As colleagues, they’re not exactly the team players and networkers; Controllers are more insular and like to focus on concrete, clear-cut objectives where they know exactly where they stand and can better control everything around them. They comprise 15% of executives — the smallest group overall — and tend to cluster on both extremes of the spectrum: either in the largest enterprises (with 1,000 or more employees) or the smallest (with fewer than 10). This makes sense when you think about it: controllers thrive on overseeing bureaucracy (at larger firms) or having complete control over all aspects of their sphere – at the smallest firms, they may be the business owner who has built an entire company around their personality. Controllers pop up most frequently in sales and marketing and finance, and populate the more practical, less visionary, end of the corporate hierarchy: these are the department heads and managers who receive their marching orders and get to mobilizing their troops to marching.
Hangers-On. Forget the less-than-flattering name; these executives exist to bring everyone back down to earth and tether them to reality. On a dinner plate, Hangers-On would be the spinach: few people’s favorite, but extremely important in rounding out the completeness of the meal. Like Controllers, they don’t embrace unstructured environments, and they tend to take things one step further, hewing to conventional wisdom and tried-and-true processes over the new and untested. When asked to pick a side, Hangers-On will most likely pick the middle. This is not necessarily a bad set of characteristics to have; someone has to be the one to remind everyone of limitations and institutional processes. While they comprise 23% of all executives – the same no matter the company size – they cluster most strongly in the CFO/Treasurer/Comptroller role, where 38% are Hangers-On. This makes sense; someone has to remind everyone of budget and resource constraints.
As we’ve seen time and again, unbridled innovation is a wonderful thing. But it’s what comes next that’s arguably more important. To get an innovative idea off the ground, it’s crucial to have a cast of characters who can keep that tension between risk-taking and reality at a healthy balance midway between the sky and the ground — where innovation can thrive.
Brenna Sniderman is the Senior Director of Research at Forbes Insights. @brennasniderman.