I am becoming increasingly convinced that confidence is a poor judge of quality. At least for me.
A few days ago I had to write a short statement for a group discussion. After a couple of hours of work I had written about 400 words, and felt quite proud of myself. I rehearsed the statement a couple of times in my head and closed my laptop. Job done.
The same night, I had the chance to try out some of the arguments with a person sitting next to me at dinner. I barely made it though the main point that she had already spotted a big flaw. I ended up throwing away the entire thing.
The opposite happens as well, with similar frequency. There are times where I have an idea, an hypothesis, or maybe the beginning of a theory and I feel pretty bad about it. It seems unoriginal, weak and poorly formed. In these situations, I tend to shelf my drafts or keep my thoughts to me, but the times when I end up sharing them - reluctantly - I am often surprised about the outcome.
Why does this happen? It can be that I am simply a very bad judge or my own ideas. But there is probably more to it. It has to do with pushing our boundaries and doing something uncomfortable.
When we are easily satisfied about something we have done, it is likely because we have uncovered something obvious. It doesn’t matter how original it may seem. Our subconscious recognises a pattern and clicks.
On the other hand, being unhappy about what we have created doesn’t mean it is all necessarily bad. A possible explanation is that we simply can’t see what we have done. We are far from having a complete picture, and that’s what causes the unhappiness, but we might have uncovered something worth of someone else’s attention. When we share these imperfect yet potentially interesting ideas, other people are able to see through the imperfection and spot the interestingness.
Overconfidence pollutes all residual points of interest. Insecurity allows the receiver to see through our unfinished work and surface its potential.
Here is a short "note to self":
When very confident about an idea or theory, doubt yourself. Test it with someone as soon as possible and be prepared for re-writing.
When unhappy about an idea or theory, don’t throw it away immediately. Let it linger a bit, share it with a few persons you trust and whose feedback you respect. If it is indeed bad, they will tell you. But you might also discover that under you insecurity there is a diamond in the making.