Keyfer Mathewson

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The Art of Faking It

We’ve all been there before — a task was assigned to us, a contract we’ve wanted to bid on, a project around the house — all of which we’ve just said yes to, without really having an idea as to how to do it, yet each time we all somehow manage to get by.

This idea I described above is something that’s not only prevalent in the tech industry, but rather is fundamental to being alive. Both new and veteran entrepreneurs face increasingly difficult challenges in various markets, developers and designers build products to solve problems they may not have individually faced, first-time parents dive head first into child-care without truly grasping the depth of the challenge.

As children grow up, they soon realize that their parents were Faking it. It’s not a bad thing, and hell, each one of us probably turned out okay. But when we were younger and didn’t know better, we thought our parents knew everything. They must have read some book which was an infinitely long flow chart with a solution to every problem. As silly as it was to think that, this is truly an incredible human coping mechanism — “Fake it till you make it.”

There is an unfortunate stigma around this idea. People are ashamed that they don’t have all of the answers. They’re ashamed they might not have known how to solve a problem, but by some miracle, they managed to pull through thanks to external force one and two. They coyly tell their family and friends that there is “no way I should have been able to do this.”

There is a way, and you found it.

Faking it till you make it isn’t some half-assed explanation for successful outcomes, it’s a means for delving into the unknown.

Faking it till you make it is the idea that you have enough confidence in your abilities to find solutions to problems you haven’t yet faced.

We should be proud to have such a remarkable ability. This confidence allows us to learn new skills, challenge ourselves, and grow!

Originally the title of this article was “The Process of Faking it” — but in reality, there isn’t a clearly defined process. What I could write here would be one way of solving a handful of problems I’ve faced in my world, which might not even work for my brother, let alone anyone else. While there isn’t a formula for faking, I would argue there is a pattern, regardless of the challenge. Faking it, as mentioned above, is just a self-deprecating label used to describe the pursuit of personal growth. Universally, people are riding the crest of discomfort as they expand their capabilities. This maps directly with Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi’s idea of Flow, in positive psychology.

Flow describes a balance and tension between a challenge and our perceived ability to meet that challenge. One must have enough confidence in one’s ability to complete the task at hand, even if they have no idea how they might do so. With these conditions met, a person will feel energized, engaged, and fulfilled. Without a consistent challenge, a state of apathy or boredom quickly sets in. I’ve said this before, and I’ll repeat it: there is nothing worse than being bored. On the flip side, if the challenge genuinely outstrips our ability to perform, we transition from Faking It to good old fashioned failure.

This art of faking it doesn’t only belong to an individual though. It might start as a person or group of people trying to solve a problem they don’t have the answers to, but this attitude is then carried forward through their life and career. Companies like Slack, Airbnb, and Instagram have this running through their blood.

Stewart Butterfield (Slack) had a Master’s degree in Philosophy before going on to co-found Flickr, then Slack. Stewart took on the incredible challenge of communication, battling behemoths like Skype and Google Hangouts, and said yes to solving problems he didn’t have the answer to.

Brian Chesky (Airbnb) was an industrial designer who couldn’t afford to pay his rent, so he bought an air mattress and marketed it as “Airbed and Breakfast.” Brian took on major challenges of the hospitality and travel industry and said yes to solving problems he didn’t have the answer to.

Kevin Systrom (Instagram) had a bachelor’s degree in management science and engineering who worked as a marketing manager before he took on the challenge of photo sharing. He said yes to solving a problem he didn’t have the answer to.

In the end, what I ask of you is simple: be confident in yourself, and with that confidence, take on challenges and problems that you didn’t take on before, and when you talk about your success, don’t brush it aside as luck or happenstance, be proud in your ability to solve problems.

This post was originally published here.

Illustration by the wonderful