Fake it till you are it

This weekend I was reminded of Allon Raiz’s brilliant summary of his term ‘Competency Crisis’ – something many entrepreneurs are familiar with: the doubt you sometimes face when you’re on the verge of growth – and his corresponding prescription to ‘act as if’. If you’ve read my book, Play to Win: What women can learn from men in business, you may recognise this from Lesson #9: Fake it till you are it.

If you are an entrepreneur, I highly recommend Allon’s book. It’s full of wise advice and lessons from case studies, and short enough to finish quickly.

But Allon’s advice isn’t only relevant to entrepreneurs. Most of us have been in situations where we question ourselves and our ability to succeed. Whether this is in response to a significant challenge, promotion or a stretch assignment, we can experience a lapse in confidence.

Here is an excerpt from Allon’s book What to do when you want to give up: Help for entrepreneurs in tough times:

At the risk of sounding sexist, I have always believed that women’s ability to apply make-up gives them a strange advantage over men, in that they are able to use the make-up to portray their features in the best possible way.

They can quite literally put their ‘game face’ on. Make-up enhances what already exists. Start-up entrepreneurs need to apply ‘make-up’ to their businesses. This is the basis of ‘act as if’. History is filled with entrepreneurs who have pretended to be what they not yet are. The entrepreneur’s quality of being able to visualise future scenarios – and to begin acting in a way that is commensurate with these future scenarios – is one of the secrets of success. It is epitomised by entrepreneurs who speak of ‘we’ when actually they have a one-man business (and ‘I’ would have been more accurate).

Kathy Delaney-Smith was the coach of the Harvard women’s basketball team. This description, from a blog by Adam Brotman, so aptly describes the power of the ‘act as if’ philosophy that I have taken the liberty of quoting it here in full:

This is an amazing story of a woman who didn’t have experience coaching basketball, but acted as if she could, and went on to lead her team to one of the biggest upsets in NCAA basketball tournament history. She then went on to harness her own ‘act as if’ philosophy while taking cancer head on. I’ll never think about anything else other than this coach and her amazing story when thinking about the power of acting as if. In a New York Times article from 2009, Melissa Johnson writes about Delaney-Smith’s philosophy:

‘Any decent athlete, salesman or Starbucks barista can put on a good game face.
But her philosophy, “act as if”, goes much deeper than mere swagger or theatrics. It’s a method – a learned skill for convincing your mind that you already are what you want to become. The body follows where the mind leads.‘ [Emphasis mine – DR]

There are those who disagree with this view. They see ‘acting as if’ as deception or, even worse, lying. I am not advocating either of these. The unfortunate reality is that it is a gamble to start a business and it is a gamble for others to support a start-up business. At some point,m a leap of faith is required.

You need to present your business as having reached a level of success that you know it has the potential to reach. There is no doubt in my mind that when you act as if you are successful, you are more likely to be treated as a successful person. It is a virtuous cycle that breeds success. A word of caution: it all falls apart if you don’t have the substance to back it up. Do not say things that you do not mean and do not promise what you cannot deliver.

Lesson #9: Fake it till you are it from my book Play to Win: What women can learn from men in business covers just this crisis in confidence, and at the end of the chapter I give 4 strategies for beating the ‘fake’ feeling. In summary, they are:

  1. Reframe your fear.
  2. Set reasonable expectations.
  3. Make failure your classroom.
  4. Remember that ‘faking it’ is a skill.

The first step to being successful is convincing yourself that you are successful.

You can get your own copy of my book right here.

Image ‘bride with a mirror’ by mahmoud99725 from flickr

© Donna Rachelson. All Rights Reserved.