Violet Asquith, a British politician, once said, ‘The first time you see Winston Churchill you see all his faults, and the rest of your life you spend discovering his virtues.’ The essence of this statement can also be reversed like, ‘The first time you see someone you may see all their virtues, and then slowly you will see their faults and failures.’ Many a time we get into situations where we strongly believe a particular person may be the right candidate for a position, job or even to be the ruler of a nation based on their great ideas, or the vibrant energy they seem to emit. But after they enter into that responsible position where their ideas and energy seemed so perfectly fit, they will somehow miserably fail, and none of their ideas work. They appear to walk in as saviors but walk out as failures. Or in some cases, you may believe you can easily handle a particular task due to your experience or subject knowledge, but get stonewalled and fail. For example, we see numerous examples of flashy sports coaches failing, or a business manager highly successful in one firm failing miserably elsewhere, or a politician failing big time as a minister, and so on.
So, why is it that people who promise the moon and claim to revolutionize the system fail miserably when they actually get the baton? Why do good ideas often not work, and why does knowledge or confidence fail? While there could be several straightforward reasons why ordinary people fail, the hidden (and even philosophical) reasons why confident people and knowledgeable experts fall down is because they fail to understand that self-confidence and assumptions are very different from ground realities. To understand what I am talking about you need to absorb a concept called - View from the hot seat. Let me elaborate this with a couple of examples.
Dionysius was a fourth century B.C. tyrant of Syracuse in ancient Greece. Once he overheard a young man named Damocles envying his good fortune and was blabbering about how easily he could also rule the nation if he had all the power and resources at his disposal. So, Dionysius decided to teach Damocles a lesson by making him ruler for a day. The excited Damocles was made a king for a day and treated to all the royal ceremonies. As Damocles sat feasting in the palace, he happened to glance upward and was horrified to see a sharp sword hanging above his head using just a thin horsehair. This scared the hell out of Damocles. Dionysius then explained what that sword symbolized by saying, ‘I have many enemies as I have come to power by violence my life is always in danger and anything can happen to me at any time. Every day that I rule this city, my life is in as much danger as yours is at this moment.’ It was then that Damocles understood the job of a ruler is not as easy as he had imagined. The harsh reality and an overwhelming sense of a king’s responsibilities became clear only when Damocles sat on the throne (hot seat), but had no clue about it previously. Basically, the king was telling Damocles, ‘Just sit in my hot seat and feel its temperature.’
Let us take another example of your first time driving a car, bicycle or a motorbike. Until then you would have most probably believed driving was an easy and effortless affair. But as soon as you sat in the driver seat for the first time in your life, the view of the traffic world would have definitely scared you. Or even if you knew driving, it can be again scary if you now have to drive in a high paced reckless city. This vaporizing of confidence, seeing the big picture or realizing the gravity of the situation is what is known as the view from the hot seat.
Here are a few things one should know about this concept.
1. The hot seat view can be a valuable lesson for everyone, as it teaches you the real reasons for success or failure in anything you or others do. It is only when you sit in the hot seat you can see things that others can’t see. For example, voters and journalists may easily criticize a politician for not fulfilling his election promises. But the politician now sitting in the hot seat will see compulsions, political pressures, unspeakable issues, skeletons in the cupboard, hidden dangers, stonewalls, etc., that limit what he can or cannot do. This is why people in power are often unable to solve a problem or fix a mess that they would have earlier confidently promised or claimed to do.
2. A popular saying says it’s not necessary to truly knowledgeable about something in order to argue about it. We are all guilty of preaching great advice, and everyone thinks they can do it until they have to actually do it. This is why our planet is full of armchair commandos (you and I included) who can easily give top advice on how an airline hijack could have been handled, improve the economy, run a government, fight a war, handle terrorism, win a game and so on. But it’s not that easy, as spectators will often not have the full picture of a situation until they are inside and get a grip on the hurdles of the job.
3. Everyone can do somebody’s job in their imagination. But it’s not easy to be in a position where you are responsible for important or difficult decisions. Similarly, flamboyant talking is different from doing. For example, people who engage in such talk often sound confident and articulate. They can easily spray facts, opinions and have interesting ideas. However, except in some rare cases, it’s always wrong to believe such talkative people are also good implementers. For example, if you make them sit on the hot seat, you will see they will often be no different from others.
4. There is also a philosophical angle to this. Sometimes you may know what to do, how to do, and have all the apparent powers, yet you will be unable to complete a task due to seemingly unrelated factors. This is when you need to believe in the mischievous hand of fate. Believe in the possibility that many things are probably not destined to be done by you. There is many a slip between the cup and the lip. Don’t be sure that your plans will work however well and meticulously planned. Destiny works in inexplicable ways. Many times in life you will be so close to winning something, so close to a victory, so close to completing something, etc. But you lose it by a whisker. This old-fashioned expression means don’t be too sure that your plan is going to work because anything can go wrong at anytime. Between the time you decide to do something and the time you actually do it, things can often go wrong.
Finally, we can conclude this chapter with two beautiful quotes.
‘The problem with the world is knowledgeable people are full of self-doubts, while ignorant people are full of self-confidence.’
‘It is far easier to whisper advice from behind the scenes rather than risk its merit at the point of attack.’ From the movie King Ralph