The hedge fund known as "Long Term Capital Management" collapsed last fall through overconfidence in its highly leveraged methods, despite I.Q.'s of its principals that must have averaged 160. Smart people aren't exempt from professional disasters from overconfidence. Often, they just run aground in the more difficult voyages they choose, relying on their self-appraisals that they have superior talents and methods.
Companies selling a product play down its vulnerability and emphasize its robustness. But only after technology leaves the dock is it really tested. For human operators in control of a supposedly infallible system, complacency and overconfidence can take over, and caution may be thrown to the wind.
... overconfidence in one's own ability is the root of much evil. Vanity, egoism, is the deadliest of all characteristics. This vanity, combined with extreme ignorance of conditions the knowledge of which is the very A B C of business and of life, produces more shipwrecks and heartaches than any other part of our mental make-up.
Alice Foote MacDougall
Modern society is large and complex, with institutions wielding great power over the lives of many. This is why Johnson and Fowler added a dire parting shot in their predictions. Since you are programmed to become increasingly overconfident the less you understand about any given scenario, you can expect to find the most destructive overconfidence in places that are exceedingly complicated and unpredictable.
Every woman knows what I'm talking about. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence.
As part of an effort to prod college seniors to get tetanus shots, a group of students was given a lecture meant to educate them about the dangers of tetanus and the importance of getting inoculated against it. A large majority of those students reported that they were convinced and planned to get their shots, but in the end only 3 percent got them. Bu another group of students, who were presented with the same lecture, had a 28 percent inoculation rate. The difference? The second group was given a map of the campus and asked to plan their route to the health center and pick a date and time to go. Sometimes, you see, motivation isn't our problem. Rather, we need to identify life's everyday mental obstacles - regret, fatigue, overconfidence, fear, to name just four - and put ourselves into position to hurdle them.
This tub is for washing your courage... When you are born your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you're half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it's so grunged up with living. So every once in awhile, you have to scrub it up and get the works going or else you'll never be brave again. Unfortunately, there are not many facilities in your world that provide the kind of services we do. So most people go around with grimy machinery, when all it would take is a bit of a spit and polish to make them paladins once more, bold knights and true... This tub is for washing your wishes... For the wishes of one's old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes. And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is, not everyone can tell when they ought to launder their wishes. Even when one finds oneself in Fairyland and not at home at all, it is not always so easy to catch the world in its changing and change with it... Lastly, we must wash your luck. When souls queue up to be born, they all leap up at just the last moment, touching the lintel of the world for luck. Some jump high and can seize a great measure of luck; some jump only a bit and snatch a few loose strands. Everyone manages to catch some. If one did not have at least a little luck, one would never survive childhood. But luck can be spent, like money, and lost, like a memory; and wasted, like a life. If you know how to look, you can examine the kneecaps of a human and tell how much luck they have left. No bath can replenish luck that has been spent on avoiding an early death by automobile accident or winning too many raffles in a row. No bath can restore luck lost through absentmindedness and overconfidence. But luck withered by conservative, tired, riskless living can be pumped up again-after all, it is only a bit thirsty for something to do.
Catherynne M. Valente