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Using Confident Humility as a Mindset to Grow Your Business

by Arianne Foulks

July 19, 2023
Arianne Foulks, founder of Aeolidia

This post was originally published in UPPERCASE magazine, issue #58.

I consider all of my opinions tentative.

—Jean-Pierre Beugoms

These last few years have been difficult, to say the least. At this point, I roll my eyes when I say “pivot,” because it’s been such a buzzword. It does seem that being a successful business owner depends on how willing you are to change your mindset. Clichéd as it is, people who challenge their own beliefs and make the needed changes are the ones I’ve seen doing well.

I’d like to share a few facets of the mindset I try to use to stay open to breakthroughs.

Confident humility

One of the core values at my web design company is that each of us is what we call a humble expert. To us, this means we’re confident about our own work, we’re open-minded, and our ego never gets in the way. As a team, we’re always willing to rethink an idea or change how we do something if it will get us better results.

I recently read the book Think Againby Adam Grant. Imagine my delight to discover his concept of “confident humility.” He explains impostor syndrome, where you think you’re less capable than you are. There are also armchair quarterbacks, who think they’re more capable. Between the two, there’s a sweet spot he calls confident humility. This characteristic not only makes you agreeable to work with, but it can also lead to success.

Willingness to change

An important thing that a humble expert does is to change their mind based on what’s working. For me, this means that I pay attention to what my clients and community value now. I research what’s working in my industry. If my business offerings don’t align with this, I make a change.

For instance, at the start of the pandemic, our client base wasn’t ready to invest in big redesign projects. We surveyed our community, then offered tiny projects to match their new priorities. In 2021, ecommerce was doing very well, and we got back to doing big projects. Last year, in 2022, the economy didn’t feel secure. We figured out how to redesign a website in a week, to offer an affordable option. Being willing to change is what helped my business make it through this tough time.

Using scientific thinking

A study referenced in Think Again tested scientific thinking for startup businesses. Startups in the control group averaged under $300 in revenue during the study. The startups that the researchers taught scientific thinking methods to did astonishingly better. They averaged over $12,000 in revenue during this time.

That’s a huge difference and speaks to being willing to experiment, research, and try again. Instead of making changes to our services in 2020, I could have insisted on sticking to what we were used to. Researching, testing a hypothesis, and adjusting kept my team employed.

Ignoring sunk costs

A sunk cost is money (or time) you’ve already spent. Refusing to move on from the bad investment feels to me like doubling down on a disproved hypothesis. I try not to let past expenses of time or money affect future decisions. It’s better to start with a clean slate and make decisions based on where I’m at now.

It’s human nature to want to “get our money’s worth,” even if it’s holding us back. For example, a shop owner might be reluctant to redesign her logo if she’s recently bought new signage for her store. For me, building out processes for our new projects felt rough after perfecting our original process. Rethinking works best when you don’t feel stuck in the past or tied to earlier decisions.

Continuous improvement

There’s one thing that I always enjoy about growing my business: making things better. I’m a problem solver by nature, and it’s fun for me to have things to fix. I also get a lot of satisfaction out of having big ideas and seeing them become reality.

One concept that stuck with me from Think Again was the idea of enjoying being wrong. Instead of feeling bad about it, it’s fun to see a new way of doing things and get to rethink previous ideas. With the new knowledge that comes from being wrong, you’re on the path to being more right than you were before.

More musings on mindset and business growth

If you enjoyed this article about confident humility as a mindset to grow your business, here is some further reading you may enjoy:

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