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Francesca Gino is a behavioral scientist and a professor at Harvard Business School. She has earned major research awards from the National Science Foundation and the Academy of Management. She[…]

We tend to get sidetracked because we are too confident in our own abilities.

In early 2000 I got to study a very interesting Italian company called Ducati Corse.  And what this company does is racing motorcycles.  It’s a very important business for them because what they do during the races  actually translates in sales of commercial bikes.  What is interesting is that in 2003 this company entered a new type of competition called MotoGP.  And they decided that this was gonna be a learning season where they would collect a lot of data to try to understand how to make their bikes more competitive and better.  As it turns out they started having a lot of success at the beginning of the season and so they completely forgot about their goal and their plan of using the data to learn.  And by the end of the season they redesigned the bike for the year after and they basically designed over 60 percent of the components of the bike without even testing them.

So what does this story tell us?  In their own words if you talk to the team at Ducati Corse they would say they were a little bit overconfident.  The fact that they won so many races at the beginning made them feel very confident about their abilities to perform and forget about their plan of actually using the first season in MotoGP as a learning season.  Now, as it turns out, feeling of overconfidence because we think too highly of ourselves is a factor that comes in the way of us sticking to our plans more generally. 

There is a beautiful study conducted in the late 90s where people were asked to indicate who was most likely to go to heaven.  So people had to rate a different set of people – like Michael Jordan and Bill Clinton and they gave them percentages that were lower than 70 percent.  Then they rated Mother Teresa’s likelihood to go to Heaven and she received a percentage a little bit higher.  It was around 75 percent.  But what is interesting is that people gave themselves an 87 percent chance of going to Heaven.  So this is a humorous study that suggests that oftentimes we have very positive views of ourselves, of our competence, of our skills and, in a sense, we have a positive view of all possible socially desirable dimensions.  And because of this very positive view we tend to be very confident in our decisions.  And that can get us derailed when we are trying to implement our plans.  

So what can we do about it?  In my book I talk about a principle that is quite simple and it’s called raise your awareness.  Be aware of the fact that we tend to have these overly positive views of our skills and competencies and that we should ask ourselves when we make decisions and when we’re implementing our plans whether those views are sidetracking us because we are too confident in our own abilities.

Directed / Produced by

Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd