Swimming With Confidence in the Sea of Self-Doubt

Let's protect ideas floundering in the waves

I remember the moment. Something had appeared in my brain, I had thought about it, sense checked it with myself twice. I had waited for a few more minutes, thought about not saying it, but told myself: No, it's right. I'll do it. I'll speak up. So I did. I spoke up and shared it. I said this thing that could be great, or could make me look like an idiot. As the words came out, their eyes changed. Their eyebrows dropped. Someone picked up their phone. Someone else nodded the way you manically nod at a toddler babbling about their plastic monkey. All hope was lost. 

When you share an idea, you drop a little piece of you out there. A small part of you leaps from the sanctity of your self and leaps into the ocean of self-doubt, waiting to be picked up by a kind sailor. For that brief moment, you're swimming, lost in a sea of hope, not knowing if the gloom of despair is going to suck you under. You can get rescued, gleefully pulled onboard the ship of ideas. Or you can be discarded to the deep. The dark trench from where ideas don't return. 

So what. We all have shit ideas, don't we? We've all suggested things that even we'd admit were wrong. Get over it. "Man up." The problem is, once you've drowned a few times, you stop trying to swim. And when you stop trying to swim, you end up sitting on the sides. You become the dad at the swim race instead of the effervescent kid trying to do the butterfly with all their might. Then you get told you don't speak up in meetings. Then the cloud of self-doubt and internal pressure ramps up even more. 

For all the chat about diversity and inclusion in the industry, how much of it happens in the moment? Not the hiring, not the promoting. The company meeting. The moment when ideas actually happen. In the reviews, in the briefing, in the impromptu get-togethers. It's all of our responsibility to encourage ideas from everywhere and everyone. If we believe ideas can come from anywhere, that means making space for the quiet, for the new, for the frequently unheard.

Creativity is all about confidence. In an industry that is all about talent and new ideas, let's encourage those brave enough to swim. When you see the spark in someone's eyes, draw it out of them. That strange sound we all know, the intake of breath as someone is ready to speak, hear it and give time to it. Make room for it. Drop your cynicism. Pause your brain. Listen, and listen again. Cajole. Nudge.

Approach your next moment with some life rafts at the ready. Be open to new ideas coming on board. Be the person in the room that helps build confidence rather than let it drift off. You never know what you might find or what great talent you may be helping to grow. There are stormy seas out there. Let's make sure we get through it together.

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Ben Shaw
Ben Shaw is head of strategy at BBH London.