The Juxtaposition of Humility and Arrogance

I woke up this morning at 5am this morning determined that – if nothing else – I’d get a run in today. After procrastinating until almost 7am, I got out there and got it done. It was cold but I’ve now strung together three days in a row. Tomorrow will be four.

During my procrastination, I read two blog posts – one that made me happy and one that made me sad.

First the happy one. Tim Ferriss and I have a long distance relationship. We’ve physically been together twice – once at a SXSW dinner well before SXSW was trendy and once at Emily and Rob Lafave’s apartment. That’s it. But I’m a huge fan of Tim’s. I love his books. I love his irreverence. I love his art of self promotion. I love his endless experimentation on himself. And I love his humility.

Read his post “Productivity” Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)It starts out strong and gets better:

I originally wrote this post months ago, but I’ve been too self-conscious to publish it until now. This quote convinced me to put on my big girl pants:

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
– Neil Gaiman
University of the Arts Commencement Speech

So, here goes, and I hope it helps at least a few of you.

Yeah – there are some good tips in there. But he also talks about his own constant struggle in the context of doing a ton of amazing stuff. He calls it “manic-depressive” – I call it “functional depression.” Regardless – it’s super complicated and observing the humility of being able to acknowledge the struggle in the context of a very public and successful life always makes me happy.

And then I read Silicon Valley Has an Arrogance Problem: It’s Too Proud, Too Self-Centered, and That’s Not Good For AnyoneAfter I read it, I wanted to unread it. Oh – it had all the typical Silicon Valley self-aggrandizing crap in it. But it also has a tone of “watch out Silicon Valley – your arrogance is going to backfire on you.” For example:

“This is Silicon Valley’s superiority complex, and it sure is an ugly thing to behold. As the tech industry has shaken off the memories of the last dot-com bust, its luminaries have become increasingly confident about their capacity to shape the future. And now they seem to have lost all humility about their place in the world.

Sure, they’re correct that whether you measure success financially or culturally, Silicon Valley now seems to be doing better than just about anywhere else. But there is a suggestion bubbling beneath the surface of every San Francisco networking salon that the industry is unstoppable, and that its very success renders it immune to legitimate criticism.

This is a dangerous idea. For Silicon Valley’s own sake, the triumphalist tone needs to be kept in check. Everyone knows that Silicon Valley aims to take over the world. But if they want to succeed, the Valley’s inhabitants would be wise to at least pretend to be more humble in their approach.”

Go ahead – substitute whatever you want for “Silicon Valley.” And when someone is telling the arrogant to be more humble, well isn’t that just arrogance writ large?

My suggestion – behave however you want to behave. Be as arrogant, or humble, as you want. Humans will sort over time based on how they act. And it won’t really matter in 40 years when the machines have taken over. But remember – the machines have a store of everything we’ve done and said (which we are aggressively helping them populate and search) and are watching us carefully.

  • I’m not defending that article you mentioned. In my opinion, it’s the worst form of arrogance, but don’t you think it’s possible to point out a flaw in a less arrogant way?

    Is it arrogant for you and I to point out the arrogance in the pointing out of the arrogance?

    And I share your respect for Tim!

    • And then my brain was swallowed by a black hole.

  • Michael Merrill

    I think your advice is right on. Behave however you want. Because at the end of the day, it’s the person who is authentic that makes an impact. Like in Tim’s article, just when you think he is superhuman, he shares with you his failures. He shows you that what he says and what he does is in line with his beliefs. Being humble enough to show your struggle is rare these days. It’s cool that leaders like you guys are willing to share. Keep up the running!

  • James Mitchell

    Silicon Valley deserves to be arrogant. Nothing like it has ever existed
    in human history, nor will there ever be anything like it in the
    future. Whatever no. 2 is (Boston or New York, most likely), the lead SV
    has is extraordinary.

    • I think it’s silly to focus on the success of one region. Shouldn’t we be talking about growing pies instead of slicing them? I am glad SV is successful. They have created scalable solutions that have benefitted my life. But, at that same time other regions of the US have great ideas and great people too.

      • Totally agree – the basis for why I wrote Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City –!

        • True story. I was on a panel at the Early Stage Startup Symposium in Wisconsin. I was able to bring out a “Feldism”. Brad actually Keynoted via Google Hangouts from sunny Boulder. In my panel, an entrepreneur said, “We should do a SXSW in Madison.” I agree! But I told him, “Don’t wait for a fund, or the government to do it. You can do it. Mardi Gras is entrepreneur/community lead-with little government involvement. Start a small SXSW thing unique to Madison and it will grow tall.” Totally empowering when you think that way. Like, really empowering. No one is stopping anyone.

          • Awesome – love the story and the advice.

    • Huh? I thought you were more of a student of history that than.

    • Detroit built the car, Boston is the bio-tech hub, and I here Florence was the place to be in the 14th century. But, Silicon Valley has churned out a lot of cool apps, so point taken.

  • Hey Brad, the machines indeed have a store of everything that has been said. I am reminded of the Barron’s front page article on Amazon.bomb, it has been recorded and quoted many times over how wrong they were.

    I find it hard to put myself in the author’s shoes, I don’t see the point of entertaining negative connotations about Silicon Valley, let alone writing a long essay about its (presumed) arrogance. In my view the notion of “silicon valley” is a bunch of smart, motivated and committed people working together to change the world for good. There are many such successful startup valleys in the world today, thanks to @techstars, @firsround, @upfront and others.

    • It’s amazing to look at some of the stuff written in 1999 and reflect on what has happened in the ensuing 14 years. This is such a great example.

  • Balance is, always, the key. Arrogance or humility won’t get you very far… but both in the same person and you have someone worth keeping your eye on .

  • Nikki Braziel

    This is a little off topic but I couldn’t resist. It’s the animated backstory to the Matrix and totally tells a story of human arrogance and how the machines took control. You have probably seen it…

    • Yup – the Animatrix is great.

  • jusben1369

    From my vantage point I see a new edge to this. I can’t quite put my finger on it. However, up until the last few years the Bay Area and “Silicon Valley” was almost universally adored by the US at large. The dot com bomb was an exception but in general there was nothing but admiration. The beauty of the location, the “laid back” feel of the culture, the tremendous wealth creation that helped individuals and helped corporate America through better hardware, software and services. The Bay Area baked in that admiration.

    Then something changed. Perhaps it’s just the absolute size of the place. Perhaps it was the move from primarily an engine for business software to consumer goods and services. The current handwringing around the all male, all white Twitter board is a great example. SV started facing criticism. And it’s not handling criticism well. It doesn’t have the skill set (yet). New York knows criticism. LA knows criticism (traffic, fake people etc) SV was the golden child who’s now being treated, for a range of reasons, like an adult. Not always getting a free pass.

    Proof that it can’t handle criticism well? Much of the debate is really “I’m taking my ball and going home!” Now, is some of that criticism from East Coast and other writers based on jealousy at the rise and rise of the Bay Area? Probably. That doesn’t mean the criticism itself is unwarranted. SV just has to realize that along with all the greatness there is always going to be areas to improve. I feel like that’s what’s different SV is so large now that it has real real issues. But admitting to that has no place in the up till now narrative.

  • Andrew

    “No.” That is the answer to this question you posed: “And when someone is telling the arrogant to be more humble, well isn’t that just arrogance writ large?” Most of my real heroes – MLK, Ghandi, Jesus, Buddha, to name a few – were doing just that. Calling out self-absorbed ego trippers. Nothing (inherently) arrogant abut that and it’s non-sequitur to say that it.

    Also, to you (and many others), the fact that machines will take over is a given. You may be right, you may be wrong. But, to many people, assuming as much is the height of the self-absorbed techno-arrogance of which we speak.

    • Hmmm – each to his own perspective on the interpretation of the views of these folks.
      And – re: the machines. I encourage you to spend some time with Battlestar Galactica.

      • Andrew

        I love Battlestar Galactica! So mythic, so strange, so good. Tim Ferriss is awesome too.

  • Blaine Berger

    I can’t get excited about the second article in the WSJ. It seems to fit Ryan Holiday’s observation of controversy=page views outlined in his book “Trust Me, I’m Lying” with over 200 emotionally charged comments. Some arguments well presented, some not. It’s purposely built to rattle around the echo chamber.

    And while Tim’s article followed by the WSJ one provoked your juxtaposition observation, it’s also the one that I think deserves more discussion. Thanks for the link to Tim Ferris.

    • Thx. I agree with your assessment!