Have you ever been in a war zone similar to 9/11 that brought down the twin towers in New York and hulked the walls of Pentagon? In a split second, you oscillate from a deafening sound too clueless to drawing into a siege. If your answer is no, then you have hope to eliminate self-skepticism and cope with imposter syndrome.
When 9/11 terror happened, Donald Rumsfeld was the U.S Secretary of Defense. He not only witnessed the catastrophe, he was also victim to it and brain behind reacting to it with the most critiqued Iraq invasion. He has maneuvered through tough terrains of global politics, national security, and government reputation. His learnings and wisdom in the form of ‘Rumsfeld’s rules’ are popular and revered among government colleagues and the walls of the White House. He also is the creator and propounded of ‘The Known Unknown framework’ which classifies risk, in correlation to impact and occurrence or understanding and awareness.
So, how is all this going to help in eliminating self skepticism or coping with imposter syndrome?
Self doubt, self skepticism, or imposter syndrome arise from a space of fear. Using the Known Unknown framework, leaders can transcend from this space of fear to a space of faith and belief.
4 types of fear: Identify and acknowledge your fear.
Fear of judgement
You are under the spotlight, hundreds of curious eyes watching you from the audience. You dont want to take the spotlight because you know your acts are being scrutinized critically and you have to face them after you move out of the stage. You are more consumed about what people think rather than performing itself. And that’s because you are focusing on the wrong result. You are giving importance to how people would perceive your performance rather than the thrill of performing and completing a task with joy. Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world today was also privy to social anxiety. To overcome such fear, he enrolled into a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking. He admitted in an interview “If you have a fear of associating with people, you have to go out there and do it, and it’s painful…,”
Fear of judgement evolves from fear of somebody losing trust in you or sheer fear of failure.
Unknown: What others think about you?
Known: Your audience are entitled to judge you, no matter what.
Fear of broken trust or being abandoned and crippled
Many of us run away from relationships except for those few that we grew up with.
This makes us stop from working in teams, working with people and entrusting them with a job or a responsibility.
Unknown: Will the person fulfill what I expect them to do?
Known: Some people are bound to fail us.
Fear of failure
With a 50-year old acting career across 200 Indian movies and approximately $450 million in net worth, this 80 year old Indian actor still carries the fear of failure. Amitabh Bachchan has been recognized as a one man movie industry for over a decade.
After almost touching bankruptcy and some failed projects, he believes that failure can come back any time.
Unknown: When will I fail? Can I cope up from failure?
Known: How to react when failure strikes me?
Fear of unpredictability and unknown
“What’s next? Is this it? Is it that time when I will be fired?” Infact a fear of unknowns is the underlying reason why some hate Algebra.
It’s really not about acumen but the fear of solving the unknown that gets us a F grade in Math.
Unknown: Unknown Unknown
What is Rumsfeld’s doctrine of Unknown Unknowns?
Rumsfeld classifies problem solving variables into three categories.
- Known knowns are things that we know for sure. This leads to fear of failure. You know everything but fear anticipation that you may be able to deliver the Known.
- Known Unknown are things that we know and are aware of that we don’t know. And since we don’t know, we see a risk in exploring or pursuing them. But since we know the Unknowns, we could measure them. This leads to the fear of judgement. You know that people will judge you but you don’t know what they have in their mind and what would be their verdict for you.
- Unknown Unknowns are things we don’t know and are not aware of that we don’t know. This leads to the fear of Unknown.
- Unknown knowns. There are two ways to look at it in the way Donald Rumsfeld describes it. Rumsfeld initially defines “unknown knowns” as “the things you think you know, that it turns out you did not”, and also defines the term as “things that you know, that you don’t know you know”. Like your superpower.
You may think the examples to this could be – What will sales be like next year? Will our new product succeed? What will the competition do?
But what would you imagine Unknown Unknowns as? Think about it.
For instance, it could be something like a pandemic such as Covid that was coming your way, but you had no clue about it.
These four quadrants help you realize your level of awareness and knowledge as a thought leader.
In the first place, why does anyone succumb to imposter syndrome?
Why a person with impostor syndrome stops from doing things?
A person with impostor syndrome is one who is in any of those quadrants battling with some form of fear.
The fundamental fear of being judged as a fraudster which may cripple the existing relationships and the relationships to be formed in future. This cumulative fear further percolates into the fear of not being able to predict the result and hence assuming failure way ahead of any evaluation.
And this occurs over and over again in a cyclic and vicious form. Also, if you are suffering from imposter syndrome that stops you from doing something new, its because you have not practised the process of internalization enough to support self motivation.
Using the Rumsfeld’s Wisdom to identify your knowns and unknowns would help you approach your fears in a rational form.
We constantly slip into imposter syndrome is because our natural bias takes over our rational thinking.
Now you may have identified which type of fear or a combination of them is bothering you, let’s work on them. Also, now that you have identified what each quadrant in the known- unknown space means to you, apply it to eliminate the imposter syndrome.
Here are the next steps:
I love what Alon Kiriati wrote on Freecodecamp, “A few years ago I heard about imposter syndrome, and I immediately related to it… I always doubted my knowledge and felt like one day they will all expose my “secret” and realize that I’m not as good as I made my self out to be. I was terrified that one day they’ll demand to replace me with someone better…”
He further says, “If you feel like you were just lucky or that people around you didn’t see you for the fraud that you are, then you probably have some problem in the way you perceive your skills and knowledge. This misperception means that your unknown known area is taking over the known known. You have a lot of knowns (which made you succeed) but the lack of awareness makes you feel like a fraud and is blinding your field of vision to the point that you are no longer able to see the positive qualities in you.”
As Dorie Clark, one of my favorite business thinker puts it…to know the ‘unknown unknowns’ you need to:
- Dig into the inner circle of the space where you want to thrive and seek out insider perspective.
- Conduct a premortem — imagining in advance that an initiative has failed, and working to understand the reasons why.
- Bring in a person with a completely different background to test your implicit assumptions.
The greatest fear that stops you from realizing your fullest potential or pulls you back from starting something new, if the fear of unknown.
What’s stopping you from becoming a Thought Leader? Are you an imposter?
Help yourself with tools, techniques and frameworks that are designed to help you tackle your fears.
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