The Seduction of Arrogance

There are two lies you can believe in the world that will get you into trouble.  The first is that you’re not enough.  The second is that you’re something special.  – My dad

When we believe lies, we have a hard time seeing through them.  We must recognize and claim some other truth to be able to fight against them, and more so, be on guard against them because many times we don’t question how we see the world.

These two lies fall on either side of our performance. The first can be self-perpetuating: we don’t think we can, so we don’t try, and by not trying, we don’t. This gives rise to further doubts, and so on.  The second is more insidious.  While it might give us confidence to try new things, it also creates a dangerous delusion we want to perpetuate.  We think we’re really something, so we look for proof that indeed we are.  We weave narratives about how those around us have failed but how we have prevailed.  The longer we live with the delusion, the more we believe it’s veracity and discount anything that says otherwise.  Moreover, we become narcissistic jerks, inevitably leading to our downfall but sometimes too late to do anything about it.

I have found myself believing each of these lies at various points in my career and while I loath the second, I’m surprised how easily I can be sucked into its vortex, becoming the very thing I despise. Inevitably, I wake from it shocked again that I have been seduced by it’s madness.

We all have known those who never wake from this delusion though.  They can’t imagine that they have ever failed nor done anything wrong.  Data to the contrary becomes warped to continue to feed the dream.  Though they may never attribute the failures they see around them to themselves, yet still, they carry the destructive storm. Oddly, many of us are guilty of encouraging their delusion because we want to believe that even though we are scared and insecure, there are those out there who have no fears.

We can all understand how this happens, yet still we must be on guard for these lies because we will want to believe that we are free from them, even as we slip into their grasp.







One response to “The Seduction of Arrogance”

  1. Jurgen Achternaam Avatar

    Sir, you are thoughtful, and touching on theory profound in business culture. The cautions may be accurate as far as they go. Unfortunately, the article gives a self-absorbed impression, as if all is about how a individual behaves in a bad situation. Notwithstanding sympathy to introspection, one is rarely merely a spectator or victim in these things. Far more useful would be disclosure of what traps anyone into so introspectively contemplate the sad dilemma of a choice between lies! Much history and experience makes available answers to this question, and you invite comments, so you get two things. A related paper being in preparation, take the submission to signify further dialog and case facts would be of interest. Or perhaps you can at least write with new deliberation.

    First, what is the environment? Numerous studies evidence that individual response to unjust environments portrays only a narrow view of underlying character. Example: in a typical setting of meritless entitlement consider whether asserting strengths to secure better treatment in itself defines selfish or disloyal character. Notice that society ultimately esteems such behavior in the face of social injustice. Rather than suffering self-admonishment, is such behavior also to be admired in business, yet to become a catalyst for change? Protests of disloyalty may expected even from peers, and assuredly you will not be much liked by superiors for the effort, but de facto rules of the playing field require assertion of leverage to earn even respect, let alone beneficial treatment. Is that the same as believing the 2nd lie? It is not. Look from the other way. Other persons dutifully comply, being patronizingly appreciated while unfairly used. Their actual reward is nil or only extracted transcendently. Conceivably even less an edifying choice, but does it follow that they believe the 1st lie? Valuable participants may have fewer points of effective leverage. Or they may simply choose paths conscientiously balancing more than one principle that is important to them. Either of these individuals’ characters can be safe enough, providing they continue to nourish their convictions.

    To that end they must rely on a pledge to real difference. Thus second, and more important, the antidote to a bad condition is not superior acceptance of its choices. One fortifies convictions through clearly defined alternatives and must assert available strength to originate improved practice. A pawn is not a queen, but at its pinnacle it asserts irresistible power. In employees such mindset is like a beacon to a candle compared to vague notions to claim “some other truth”. Vagueness in the face of serious challenge counts as loss. This proves critical in that by long tradition and human nature challenge in this thinking is constant certain.

    Transposed to these terms, it is been tradition for over a hundred years to force individuals to varying degree to adopt either the persona of the 1st lie or the second in pursuit of “industrial strength management”.
    That phrase is routinely an applied pejorative today, so is it shocking to position in terms of tradition? Perhaps, but factual. Early in the 20th century U.S. a famous paper emanated from a Frederick Taylor, elevating a topic of “scientific management”. Seldom heard now, it seeded philosophy that shaped attitude for generations of managers. The analytical techniques were enlightening for the time, particularly influential in managing manufacture of goods like pig iron. Mind you, polar opposite of knowledge or information work, but even the likes of Peter Drucker referred to Taylor as “Isaac Newton of the science of work”. We recognize genuine merit in aspects of the effort, but “seduction of arrogance” could be said to have sold and re-sold the rest. For many today, ideology underpinning a Taylor message is toxic. Toxic at least to preferred ways of working and usually toxic to entrepreneurship itself. Through embellishments and deceits Taylor seized prestige and validated business philosophy where employees are subservient and managers take for themselves as much credit, control, and compensation as possible. His was confidently divergent to any philosophy built on trust. Associates are sometimes astonished when they see aspects of the Taylor philosophy in practice today, especially in startups. On the contrary, it should be expected. Granted, abundant evidence shows it suppresses critical thinking, suffocates response to problems, and drains life out of innovation, teamwork, and commitment to an enterprise. To extent Demming and others succeeded in resets of management principles, economic impact was profound. Why has Taylorite philosophy been so durable as to become tradition? Laying claim to superiority over others is a dark lust in many human natures. Such character is relieved to adopt justifying philosophy. In terms of your article, one could say it thrives addictively and seductively under the choice of lies. In other words managers are something special. Entitlement is insulation from clarity in recognizing injustice. Managers decide and employees are paid to do. Destiny and merit determine the class to which you belong, and enforcement of bad choices as the only options is secure.

    Modern philosophy honors members of a team as possessing unique and critical skills. Enforcement of bad choices does not arise. A manager seeks employees with superlative skills and serve them to organize, guide, and amplify contribution by accelerating right decisions. Such philosophy demands trust and self confidence to teach and learn keenly. Reliance on skills of others is respected strength that complements all roles. In order to gain, those dealt with should gain as well, customers, investors, employees. An objective of win-win outcomes disdains traditional push into win-lose. As manager, one puts enterprise first, ahead of individual and personal interests. Herein lies the rub as we say. With credit to Taylor, it is a guaranteed encounter with prevailing views that such philosophy represents miserable weakness in leadership, with strong measures needed to fix the problem wherever possible.

    There is irony for who wants to see, like a movie that runs in a loop. Marvel at a starting team’s insanity, mutual commitment to do whatever needed, abilities to accomplish much on almost nothing. For the team to succeed, they need full complements of skills. In assembling skills preconditions and subtle factors urge like gravity to accepting more traditional imperious and subservient roles. Commitment deteriorates to fractured self-interest, employees receive and give blame. Like addiction, forces align against a healthy course but demise is the apt reward for acceptance. Being out of step with tradition stresses constant vigilance, energy and requires force to hold course. Awareness is to be alert to a chief risks to building an enterprise. Culture must flow from the top and is at least as vital as skills in building a team and enterprise. One concludes the excellent “seduction of arrogance” term is too narrowing looked as an individual concern. Reality is it greases almost overnight slide into Taylorite culture. Consider that the estimable challenge is not to improve response when culture forces choosing lies. The challenge is to face down toxic traditions and teach effective methods drawn from the experience.

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