It was all new. The ideas were flowing, the pressure was immense and we found a solution to a challenging problem. We found a solution! We believed that we could finally make it happen – change the lives of many families as well as helping the environment. It’s 2012, and I’m in a room with stakeholders from all sides of the problem: corporates, SMEs, public services, technology, NGOs, citizens and activists. It’s creativity at its best, and we are celebrating the power of change.

Everyone puts forward ideas and opinions – they seem to know everything that needs knowing. In my little corner, I can’t stop generating ideas, helping shape a vision for a future where technology and community merge, where sectors blend as one, and we put our resourcefulness to social good.

Maria Ana Neves

Maria Ana Botelho Neves

Guest blogger - Innovation & Branding Strategist

“The syndrome is not recognised as a formal disorder so there’s no treatment. Some behaviours have been identified, which I know only too well from personal experience including the need to work twice as hard and over-prepare – often misjudged as perfectionist behaviour”

We will make it happen

To move forward we were told we may need to incorporate a charitable organisation as this would give us credibility, and force us into a more structured and accountable way of thinking. So we were now ready to go – we have all pieces in place to move forward: a cause, the partners and a team. A decision is made: we are in this for real.

I accepted the role of CEO, which was the last thing I wanted to do. There was no money on the table and only the promise of lots of hard work ahead. Could I be the CEO of a digital charitable organisation? I didn’t think I was the person for the role. However, there was no one else to drive it on to the next stage, and my adventurous nature spoke on my behalf. The following days, weeks, months were a mix of excitement and fear. On the one hand, it was magic as we were applying the collective imagination into very purposeful ideas, on the other hand, it was scary as I felt uncomfortable with the role.

As things evolved, I kept learning, but I had a weird feeling of being misplaced. I heard an inner voice stating I’m unable to do this job; I’m ill-equipped, I’m in the wrong position. Despite evidence of our achievements and success, I could only praise others for it, and continuously felt they should not trust me to do the job.

It took me a long time to discover The Imposter’s Syndrome, coined in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. It was brought to my attention at the 2016 Web Summit during a “Women in Tech” talk by Dr Telle Whitney, President and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute. Dr Whitney explained that almost every woman she knew working in technology shared a feeling of not belonging, and how a perceived lack of knowledge or competence for the job undermined their careers.

The Imposters Syndrome might be a relatively hidden or unspoken agenda but was initially perceived as a personality trait. However social behaviour research studies are starting to reveal it’s more likely a response or reaction to particular external situations – professional and social. It’s not gender specific, though it affects a more significant number of women professionals then male, and seems to have a larger representation among high achievers.

Studies reveal up to 70 percent of professionals are affected to different degrees, although it’s often unrecognised, according to recent studies by Clark, Vardeman and Barba: “Perceived inadequacy: A study of the impostor phenomenon among college and research librarians.” If nothing is done, The Imposter Syndrome will cause high levels of stress, anxiety and self-doubt, which leads to depression and decreases self-confidence, ultimately generating extreme feelings of failure.

What does it have to do with cross-sector collaboration?

Firstly, as we often say in design-led innovation, pioneering new ideas where there is no real knowledge, proof or evidence that something works, we have to operate in the space of reality-fantasy, also known as “fake it until you make it”. Performing in real life requires a great deal of courage and self-confidence, which might be challenging if we don’t share language, knowledge and the security that we are all doing the right thing. Acceptable in early stages but once the collaboration evolves and we move out of start-up chaos into a structured organisation, one can feel (as I did) misplaced and develop fraudulent feelings – fighting inner demons which undermine self- confidence.

In cross-sector collaboration, the Imposter’s feelings can be more invisible and difficult to detect, because we step into the unknown, cross boundaries and immerse ourselves in unfamiliar ways of working. Considering most people who experience The Imposter Syndrome are unaware – unbeknown to them, others feel the same. Maybe by making it visible and creating opportunities to discuss our feelings will help overcome the Imposter’s attacks.

Have you witnessed or been involved in a situation that echoes The Imposter Syndrome? It would be brilliant to get some opinions to help overcome this barrier to collaboration – and wellbeing!

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