Risk promotes but arrogance kills –
how to identify the difference
‘Take more risks’ you hear your mentors and advisers plead. They are right. In today’s world of unremitting change only brave hearts win the battles of innovation and reap the prizes of achievement. ‘Take more risks’ is not only sound advice, it is inevitable. Almost everything you do today is riskier than it would have been ten years ago. In many countries even using an ATM is quite perilous and internet banking has yet to reveal it most horrific disasters.
But risk is inevitable. The banks know it and now put the Chief Risk Officer on the board. He ranks alongside CFO, CTO, CIO. Lawyers devote increasing amounts of space to risk in agreements. Safety Officers know that a hard drive will sometimes lead to an accident – and I use ‘hard drive’ in both the computer and the road journey senses of the words.
The experience of one person is not scientific analysis but it can be useful. I have found that when I have taken risks for purely personal satisfaction or gain they have been less likely to succeed than when my risk-taking has had others’ interests in focus. Any form of risk-taking can fail, of course, but when I help others the success rate goes up. It still isn’t guaranteed!
With risk comes the courage to handle it – and just a small step over the line from that is arrogance. There are many definitions of arrogance. The one I prefer doesn’t appear in dictionaries. It is ‘the religion of your own importance’. Arrogance is thinking you are the centre of the universe instead of merely a small star flitting about like a bat in the sky. If you ever need to seek help go for the listener, the questioner, the quiet person. Their thoughts will be about your concerns not their own.
Risk is never about showing off. The idiot who does that generally falls flat on his or her face. Risk is about truthful weighing of the difficulties to be overcome and the advantages of doing so. In so far as it is possible it should be long on analysis and short on emotion. We often feel strongly about matters that we say involve principles. Our risk assessment should be about the art of the possible, not the aspirations of the desirable.
Confidence becomes arrogance for one of two reasons – insecurity or madness. The hubris and pomposity normally associated with arrogance are signs of weakness and uncertainty. The source of that lack of confidence is largely irrelevant; what matters is overcoming it. There are many ways of doing that, flashing your ego about is not one of them. Good practice of quick thinking is the best answer. It won’t turn you into an Oscar Wilde but it will allow you to hold your position with people who are brighter and quicker than you.
Arrogant madness is not so easy to deal with. It leads to, and is manifest by, derailing. Most people derail at times – indeed the person who does not is usually thought of as a cold fish. Passion is a good tool when used correctly, a poor driver when navigating life’s oceans. We have helped people unwind arrogant madness. Doing so is not a one-off solution but a repetitive discipline as tough as any I know. Failure extracts a heavy price.
Success, on the other hand, leads to better and more successful risk-taking.
And a sense of fulfilment all too rare in today’s world.