How important is confidence?
When does thinking become overthinking?
A good example is Malta in 1942.
It was an essential British base in the Mediterranean, and a convoy was sent to resupply it.
The Italians and Germans did everything they could to sink the convoy.
To the British, it was vital Malta survived.
To the enemy, it was vital it didn’t.
In just a few days, many warships and merchant ships were sunk.
As the convoy neared Malta, many of the Royal Navy warships had to turn back to Gibraltar.
This left the convoy exposed.
And at that moment, a massive Italian fleet appeared.
6 cruisers and 17 destroyers steaming towards the virtually unprotected convoy.
If the Italian warships got to it they could sink the lot, at will.
What could the British do?
They sent out two elderly Wellington bombers.
The planes flew over the Italian ships, at night, dropping flares which lit up their entire fleet.
This worried the Italians, why drop flares not bombs?
The Wellingtons received a radio message in plain language “Report position of enemy fleet to Liberator bombers and illuminate target with flares.”
The Wellingtons dropped more flares, and received the message again in plain language.
“Use flares to illuminate enemy fleet for Liberator bombers, action immediate.”
The Italians intercepted both messages.
So that was why the British were dropping flares and not bombs.
An air raid from a massive force of American Liberator bombers could destroy the entire fleet.
Luckily they’d intercepted the messages, now they could foil the plan.
The fast new Italian ships turned 180 degrees and escaped at full speed.
Before the Liberators could reach them.
So the Italian Navy outwitted the British and Americans.
Well, not quite.
There were no Liberator bombers anywhere nearby.
In fact there were no Liberators within flying distance.
And even if there had been, there was no time to prepare them.
The flares and the radio messages were a complete bluff.
If the Italian fleet had carried on, they would have had the convoy at their mercy.
It would have been 23 Italian warships against 15 unarmed British merchant ships.
They could have destroyed them all, as easily as target practice.
But they didn’t.
Because of confidence on one side, and lack of confidence on the other.
Instead of carrying bombs, and dropping them on the warships, the Wellingtons just dropped flares.
They carried their bluff out with confidence.
The Italians weren’t confident.
They were ready to believe that the Royal Navy would do anything to destroy their fleet.
So, instead of thinking of themselves as the stronger force, they thought of themselves as the weaker force.
Instead of opportunities, they saw only threats.
Two elderly bombers dropping flares were all they needed to convince themselves.
It didn’t occur to them to ask why such an important message hadn’t been sent in code.
Why it had just been sent in plain language.
Almost as if the British wanted them to intercept it.
The Italians were worried that they couldn’t afford to risk their navy.
The British knew they couldn’t afford to lose Malta.
So the British knew they had nothing to lose.
The Italians thought they had a lot to lose.
And the British, actually in the weaker position, bullied the Italians into retreating.
It’s all about confidence.
It’s worth remembering that when we have to choose between the safe option and the exciting option.
When we’re doing a pitch, or presenting a game-changing campaign.
When we’re in danger of overthinking it.
Belief creates energy, energy creates chances.
Trepidation has the opposite effect.
If you want to win, you have to be prepared to take a chance.
If you’re not prepared to take a chance, maybe you shouldn’t gamble.
But then of course, like the Italian navy, you can’t win.