Innovation Blog

 Bipolar Issues: Is Self-Confidence or Humility A Better Motivator?

By Shlomo Maital

  If you are an innovator,  is it better to be supremely confident, even arrogant? Or is it better to be humble, self-effacing, modest?

   The answer is: Yes.  There appears to be a bipolar aspect to the underlying psychological attitudes that drive innovation.  This emerges from research on self-esteem, noted in David Brooks’ recent NYT column, and led by psychologist David Schmidt, of Bradley University, in Peoria, Illinois.  This research measures national self-esteem:   Confidence in our ability to think, to cope with the basic challenges of life and confidence in our right to be successful and happy.   His team measured self-esteem in a large number of countries.

   The top six are:   

 •          Serbia: 33.59

•           Chile: 33.12

•           Israel: 33.03

•           Peru: 33.01

•           Estonia: 32.63

•           United States:  32.21

 Note that among these, Israel, Estonia and the U.S. are highly innovative nations, whose entrepreneurs are endowed with great self-confidence and willingness to undertake risk.  One might assume that innovation and entrepreneurship correlates strongly and positively with self-esteem.

   However, consider also the bottom-ranked nations, with Japan the lowest of all:

•           Taiwan: 28.77

•           Czech Republic: 28.47

•           Bangladesh: 27.80

•           Hong Kong: 27.54

•           Japan: 25.50

Among these nations, Taiwan and Hong Kong are highly entrepreneurial and innovative.  But Japan is not.   Taiwan and Hong Kong appear to have entrepreneurial drive arising from ‘worst-case scenarios’ – bad things may happen, if they do you will have only yourself and your own wealth and savings to rely on.  Japan’s self-effacing culture of modesty and understatement does not seem to boost innovation.

   In general, I believe that innovation is highly dependent on national culture, but each nation that excels in innovation does so, in its own way, unique and distinctive.  This is why nations that have tried to emulate other nations’ innovation ecosystems have generally failed.  The message for nations that seek to become more innovate is:  You can do it, either through supreme self-confidence, or utter lack of self-confidence and self-esteem – but you can do it.   

   * Who’s No. 1 in Self-Esteem? Serbia Is Tops, Japan Ranks Lowest, U.S. Is No. 6 in Global Survey, by Miranda Hitti, WebMD Health News,  Sept. 27, 2005