Aquarium Blog

Friday, April 23, 2004

Don Box's Spoutlet: Which is more toxic? Arrogance or Stupidity?

When Don Box asks a question I feel I can correctly answer, the lack of a comments facilty in his blog becomes extremely frustrating. I intended to blog about it, but I was to lazy until JJ5, a "software developer located in Sydney, Australia" had the idea to answer the question in Channel9. I found JJ5's entry interesting, so I abandoned my laziness and wrote about my own thinking like this:

JJ5, hey bloke, I somewhat agree with your musings. However, when I read the question in Don’s spoutlet yesterday, I felt rushed to tell him that arrogance and stupidity were more less the same thing.

A year ago I read some scientific study that suggested arrogance was clearly a form of stupidity. The document resonated so much with my experience on failed companies and bad bosses, that it quickly got close to the top of my own "must be true" heap.

Unfortunately my bookmarks are not helping me to find the link to the original publication. All I remember is it was popularly known as the "Jerks are stupid" whitepaper. I obviously need Microsoft to do a beta of "Stuff I Have Seen" as soon as possible.

Anyway, if I remember well, the basic hypothesis in the work was that lack of intelligence usually triggers overestimation of self competence (we can let alone the self valuation or self esteem topic) and also underestimation of the "problem space" one needs to tackle. In that sense, arrogance is both a symptom of stupidity and the source for much stupid behavior.

On the other hand, education is the most common means to improve the knowledge about the "problem space" and at the same time it helps to get a more accurate assessment of self skills.

So, to reconcile this view with yours, let’s build a model. If I had to guess the general behavior of arrogance as a function on the intelligence axis, I would say it should have a bactrian camel back shape:

0. The less intelligent people in this world don’t really care, so they are rarely arrogant.

1. People in the next, less stupid group, care about their competence but are not intelligent enough to realize they are not the centre of universe so they are extremely arrogant.

2. People in the middle group tend to find out quickly that they are in the middle so are less prone to arrogance. They know there is an immense quantity of people that are less intelligent than them (which they often attribute to an educational deficit), and they also realize of the existence of genius, a quality they often admire. Ideally, members of this group feel motivated to be more intelligent and less arrogant every day.

3. Like people in group 1, people belonging to group 3 see themselves as "arrogants for a good reason". The difference is that members of group 3 can get their perception validated by members of group 2 and up. So they are arrogants with feedback. Members of group 3 also tend to loose less time being arrogant than members of group 1. They are busy people and after all, they are intelligent enough to see no merit in being arrogant per se.

4. The ultimate wisdom: "One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing."

By the way, I liked my musings so much I will publish them on my own blog. Next time we can discuss why the only valid way to asses ones right to be arrogant is thru extensive external feedback. We can also analyze the concept of "relative stupidity" and why I should never post anything past midninght.

P.S.: Who is gonna tell Don Box his comments feed is here?

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