Things are Good, Lets Get Arrogant

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith

POSTED ON NOVEMBER 12, 2011

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I am not sure whether arrogance and complacency are twin brothers or photo negatives of one another. But what amazes me is that they are so hard to recognize in ourselves, and in fact never seem to get identified until after the irreparable harm has been done.

I have sometimes recognized arrogant behavior of my own, but only years after the fact; perhaps sooner if someone punched me in the face (literally or figuratively).

The Good To Great author, Jim Collins recently wrote a book called ‘Why The Mighty Fail’ in which he outlined the five stages of decline in successful companies. Stage One is this: Hubris Born Of Success. But he wasn’t the first to identify it.

My Dad often told people that after decades in business, he finally figured out – retrospectively - that as soon as he started feeling confident and comfortable, things started to fall apart. He said that once he noticed it about himself, he started to see it in others. He expressed it this way: As soon as you think you are doing well, you’re not.

Years later, I read this zen proverb: If you see the Buddha in the middle of the road, kill him. Liberally interpreted, it means that if you think you have found the answer and need to search no longer, you can be certain only of this: That you have made a huge error in your thinking, and need to start all over again. So, I told my father that he was a Buddhist at heart, and didn’t get invited home for Sunday dinner for very many months.

I have seen some recent signs of both complacency and arrogance at EllisDon. I am racking my brain to try to understand where this comes from, whether I fostered it (by my own complacency – remember, it seems identifiable only after the fact), and what to do about it.

But I keep coming back to the teachings of that wise Zen Buddhist – my father: As soon as you think you are doing well, you’re not. He’s 85 and still healthy. Maybe I could get him on a lecture tour around the company.