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Small habits with huge impact: Don A. Moore

November 20, 2019 — Written by Cori Land
Dr. Don Moore with Humu co-founder Jessie Wisdom and me, Cori Land

At Humu, our mission is to make work better, and we regularly get the chance to talk to inspiring minds in academia, business, and government. When we do, we ask questions that we hope will help everyone—everywhere—benefit and grow from the advice, routines, and practices these experts share.

A few weeks ago, I was delighted to invite Dr. Don Moore to Humu to share about his forthcoming book, Perfectly Confident (2020). Don is a professor at the Berkeley Haas School of Business, where he teaches MBAs about leadership and communication. 

I had the pleasure of taking an introductory organizational behavior course with Don during my first semester at Haas. I wrote my admissions essays about using organizational behavioral science to improve both the quality of employees’ work and the quality of employees’ work experience, so I felt especially lucky to land in Don’s classroom. 

In fact, it’s because of Don that I found my way to Humu after graduating in May 2019. To demonstrate the power of social networks, Don ran an exercise where each student anonymously submitted a wish. Once all the wishes were in, Don posted them to the class so that anyone who could help fulfill a wish could respond. 

My wish was to work at Humu. At the time, there were only 20 people working at Humu so the odds of a connection felt low. But social networks are strong! My classmate Alex knew Stefanie Tignor, Humu’s second People Scientist (besides our co-founder, Dr. Jessie Wisdom, who coincidentally used to work with Don). Stefanie graciously met me for coffee, where we nerded out over things like how to measure productivity. While I still had to pass over the same high bar as everyone else, it helped to have a connection with an existing employee.

Okay, enough about me. Here’s some of what Don had to say about confidence.

What does it mean to be overconfident?

Overconfidence occurs when we overestimate our own performance and talents, when we hold an exaggerated belief that we’re better than others, and when we routinely exhibit certainty that exceeds our accuracy. One classic example is that 93% of American drivers rate themselves above the median. There are social situations in which we might feel pressured to express more confidence than the evidence merits: leaders, doctors, and politics. However, being too sure of yourself exposes you to risk. 

When are we most likely to be underconfident?

Underconfidence occurs when we imagine other people are better than us. This happens most frequently on difficult tasks when others’ challenges aren’t as obvious to you.

How can we better calibrate our confidence judgements?

Consider ways in which you might be wrong. This is the simplest debiasing strategy psychologists have identified. It might not get you perfectly calibrated, but closer. Seek different perspectives that illuminate your views in a different light. Seek diverse opinions to help avoid groupthink.

We also asked Don the same 4 questions we ask all of our visitors (see what Adam Grant had to say!).

Given unlimited resources, what question would you most want to try to answer?

I would want to better understand how the human mind represents uncertainty. Research on overconfidence highlights the fundamental challenge of being both wrong and knowing it. What is the way out of this conundrum?  How can we be well-calibrated about our propensity to err and accurately anticipate the effect of unknown unknowns on our judgments?

What is one thing you have to do every day?

Biking every day is good for my body and mind. Expressing gratitude every day is good for my relationships and my appreciation of how fortunate I am. Always asking myself how I might be wrong is good for helping me calibrate my judgments and finding my way to become less wrong. 

What’s one way your work has changed the way you live?

I have grown comfortable questioning myself and entertaining the possibility that I might be wrong. I must confess it is magnificently liberating. I am less attached to my assumptions, beliefs, and even my preferences. It has freed me to consider all the ways in which I could do better enacting my highest values. Acknowledging my own biases has freed me to do a better job enacting my egalitarian values. Acknowledging my own ignorance has freed me to study, explore, and revise my opinions. Acknowledging the imperfections in my scientific work has helped me appreciate the value of adopting open science practices in my research. 

What book do you recommend to everyone?

Well the obvious answer is my own book: Perfectly Confident is due on bookshelves in May 2020. Until then, you might consider reading Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz or Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. Both are spectacular.  

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