Imposter Syndrome: Mike Cannon-Brookes at TEDxSydney (Transcript)

Now, at the time, I couldn’t really have told you the difference between a one-and-a-half-volt AA battery that goes in my kids’ toys and a 100-megawatt-hour industrial-scale battery facility that goes in South Australia that could potentially solve their power crisis. I was now feeling a chronic case of impostor syndrome, and it got truly bizarre.

And I remember thinking to myself, “Shit. I’ve kind of started something here and I can’t really get out. If I abandon the situation, I’m going to sort of set back renewables in Australia and maybe just look like a complete idiot because of my idiocy on Twitter.”

So I thought the only thing I could do was to try not to freeze and to try to learn. So I spent a week trying to learn everything I could about industrial-scale batteries and the electricity grid and renewables and the economics of all of this and whether this was even a feasible proposal.

I talked to the chief scientist, I talked to the CSRO, had multiple ministers and premiers trying to give me their side of the story from both sides of the aisle. I managed to exchange tweets with the prime minister. I even managed to pull off a passing impression, let’s say, of an energy expert on ABC Lateline.

But as a result of all this, South Australia did put out a battery tender, and they had more than 90 applications for that battery tender. And the national conversation over a period of a few months moved from the sort of theatrical lumps of coal in the parliament to discussing kind of which industrial-scale battery chemistry was the best for building large-scale renewable batteries.

So I think that the important lesson is by that time in my life, I knew well that I was an impostor. I knew I was miles out of my depth. But instead of freezing, I tried to learn as much as I could, motivated by my fear of generally looking like an idiot, and tried to turn that into some sort of a force for good.

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So one of the things I’ve learned is that people think that successful people don’t feel like frauds. But I think, especially knowing a lot of entrepreneurs, the opposite is more likely to be true.

But the most successful people I know don’t question themselves, but they do heavily question, regularly question, their ideas and their knowledge. They know when the water is way too deep, and they’re not afraid to ask for advice. They don’t see that as a bad thing. And they use that advice to hone those ideas, to improve them and to learn.

And it’s OK to be out of your depth sometimes. I’m frequently out of my depth. It’s OK to be out of your depth. It’s OK to be in a situation where you just can’t push the eject button, so long as you don’t freeze, so long as you harness the situation, don’t be paralyzed and try to turn it into some sort of a force for good.

And it’s important that I say “harness” here, because this isn’t sort of pop-psychology BS about conquering impostor syndrome for me. It’s merely about being aware of it.

In fact, I’m extremely aware of feeling like an impostor right now, as I’m up here, some sort of pseudo-expert on a feeling that I couldn’t even put a name to a few months ago, when I agreed to do this talk. Which, if you think about it, is kind of the point, isn’t it?

Thank you.

Resources for Further Reading:

Defeating the Inner Imposter That Keeps Us from Being Successful: Knatokie Ford at TEDxMidAtlantic (Transcript)

Richard St. John: 8 Traits of Successful People (Full Transcript)

Imagination: It’s Not What You Think. It’s How You Think by Charles Faulkner (Transcript)

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