Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 07/84 item 02 - scanned

CONFIDENCE: IS IT SKIN DEEP? (column)

Have you noticed how many people suddenly become 'flavour of the month'? You know, people like John de Lorean or Adam Osborne who, for a brief moment of history, can do no wrong. Have you noticed too that neither of these people appears to be lacking in confidence, at least not in public? Although de Lorean attends court every day, you'd think from his manner that he's on his way to the office. It seems that a confident manner is an important ingredient to his survival plan. Adam Osborne too has picked himself up from the wreckage and is punting a book about the collapse of the company, is reluctant chairman of the reconstituted Osborne Computer Corporation and proprietor of Paperback Software.

Our industry is very jittery at the moment. Manufacturers and dealers are dropping like flies. I hear about at least two dealers going out of business every month and we all hear about the major companies throwing in the towel. It is understandable then that people will only buy from those they have confidence in. (I could cynically add 'unless they get 30 days to pay'.) This is why so many dealers and users were so keen to buy IBM computers. IBM is solid as a rock and it will be around long after all these upstarts have been absorbed (congratulations Comart!) or gone out of business. Such is the effect of confidence.

The problem, of course, is how the heck can you inspire confidence and cut yourself a healthy slice of the action? The answer is to behave confidently. ACT recently spent around a quarter of a million pounds on a thrash at the Albert Hall to announce its latest crop of products. The overt message was 'look at these exciting new machines'. The dancing girls, comedians, music, lighting and sound effects all put across a different message: 'look at how much we can afford to spend'. In other words, the main object of the exercise was to inspire confidence in ACT as a solid company. Managing Director Roger Foster makes no secret of the fact that the company has something like 20 million (pounds sterling) cash in the bank. It all helps the company's credibility in the minds of the dealers and the buyers.

Digressing for a moment, did you ever run across Blake and Mouton's managerial grid? One axis of a graph measures concern for people, the other measures concern for production. Each axis is numbered from one to nine thus forming a grid on to which you plot your victim's position by answering a standard set of questions. Your victim's managerial style can then be described as 1.1 (lousy with people, lousy at production) or 5.5 for example. An accompanying text explains the meaning of the various style positions. 9.9 must be the perfect, but probably unachievable, style of management.

It occurs to me that you could apply a similar technique to the question of people's credibility. You may suspect that someone's giving you a lot of hot air but without such an objective measure you may be in danger of giving them the benefit of the doubt. I know of two dealers who allowed one particularly confident and pushy character to bounce cheques on them having already persuaded them to part with their goods. This same character is still doing the rounds using the 'confidence without substance' technique which is basically to frighten people into parting with stuff by name dropping and bullying. In the end most people cave in to his approach because he is so noisy and they just want to get him out of the office.

So, the proposed Tebbo credibility grid will comprise a confidence axis and a substance axis. We'll have to get a psychologist to work out a suitable set of questions. Substance will be the sum of both material and intellectual assets. At least it's no worse than the 'I'm OK, You're OK' grid or the managerial grid, and they've served management well enough over the years. The area of maximum credibility runs along the central 1.1 to 9.9 axis. The danger areas are the top left and bottom right corners. Top left is where the con-artists reside and bottom right is where you'll find the exploited, those with plenty of substance but no confidence.

Perhaps we could finish by plotting some of our friends into imaginary positions. 1 means 'lack of' and 9 means 'abundance of'. The first figure relates to confidence and the second to substance. Adam Osborne probably migrated from 9.7 to 8.5. Clive Sinclair shuffles around too but he might be around 8.8 at the moment. Roger Foster could be a 7.7. To check you've got the hang of it, why not plot Bruce Everiss for yourselves? As for me, I dunno, how about a nice neutral 5.5?