An Upside to Imposter Syndrome: Stacy’s Book Note on Think Again

Could there be an upside to impostor syndrome? Many women have experienced feeling like a fraud and most of us would agree that it isn’t a good feeling. But, in his new book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, Wharton’s top-rated professor, Adam Grant describes how we might be able to use it to our advantage.

There are so many interesting ideas in Think Again, but as with all of my book notes, my aim is to summarize the most important takeaways for smart and caring women.

The book describes the benefits of having the ability to rethink what you know or believe. But, what I found fascinating was what Adam Grant had to say about confidence and humility among smart people, leaders, or high achievers–something that I’ve also thought about in the past.

The downside of being smart

Adam Grant talks about armchair quarterbacks, people who are more confident than they are competent. They do not know what they don’t know. For example,

In a meta-analysis of ninety-five studies involving over a hundred thousand people, women typically underestimated their leadership skills, while men overestimated their skills.

Of course, we are all susceptible to armchair quarterback syndrome. The problem is having the syndrome makes us less aware of it.

I was surprised to learn that being smart makes you even more vulnerable:

Research reveals that the higher you score on an IQ test, the more likely you are to fall for stereotypes because you’re faster at recognizing patterns….

Recent experiments suggest that the smarter you are, the more you might struggle to update your beliefs….

The better you are at crunching numbers, the more spectacularly you fail at analyzing patterns that contradict your views….

The brighter you are, the harder it can be to see your own limitations. Being good at thinking can make you worse at rethinking.

The opposite of armchair quarterback syndrome is impostor syndrome. And, once again, smart people are also susceptible to impostor syndrome:

It’s thought to be especially common among women and marginalized groups. Strangely, it also seems to be particularly pronounced among high achievers.

Confidence and humility

Adam Grant argues that there is a sweet spot between confidence and humility, which is “not having low self-confidence” but “about being grounded—recognizing that we’re flawed and fallible.”

What we want to attain is confident humility: having faith in our capability while appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even be addressing the right problem.

The upside to impostor syndrome?

We can use impostor syndrome as a catalyst for confident humility, the “sweet spot” to go after our goals.

What we want to attain is confident humility: having faith in our capability while appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even be addressing the right problem.

When faced with new or overwhelming challenges, first recognize what you don’t know. Then believing in your ability to seek out help from others and fill the knowledge gap.

In conclusion, smart and caring women can use impostor syndrome to work harder, smarter, and become better learners. The first step is to believe that you can.

P.S. If you would like to learn how I changed my views on the “danger” of electric fans, check out my article in The Independent.