discuss amongst yourselves

Can truly great things be created without arrogance?

(You can spit on me or suggest a missing link in the comments.)

[Ed.: I realized later this might have been taken as a commentary on my new job; I actually wrote this post some months ago without posting it and isn’t RH-related at all. My summer resolution is to either post or delete all my old drafts, and this is one of the lower-hanging fruit.] 

11 thoughts on “discuss amongst yourselves”

  1. Cf. Larry Wall’s comments that the three virtues of programming are laziness, impatience, and hubris. You may have something here indeed.

  2. well, i’m far more partial to the MySQL style “confident humility” or whatever it’s called, but it’s relatively undeniable that there’s a strong correlation between arrogance and brilliance.

    the explanation? all of the non-brilliant people have the arrogance beaten out of them along the way ;)

  3. Great things are always created without arrogance. The better question is: Can they persuade others that they are great without arrogance?

  4. Reminds me of the time we got sent on Entrepreneurship training (trying saying that 3 times quickly) and the keynote presenter talked about how they had studied the best leaders in IT, such as Bill G, Steve J, Larry E and factored the key traits that made them successful; vision, decision making, risk taking, blah, blah. Can’t remember them all but they were all positive nice things and in the Q&A I felt compelled to point out that each in their own way can be utter bastards and that their mean streak had just a much to do with their success as all the positive traits (not quite in those words but pretty close) – if you measure success purely by $$$.

    Of course you could argue that Doug Engelbart and Ted Codd are true source of the great inventions because their insights and innovations have shaped IT through the products that Bill, Steve, and Larry got rich on. My guess is that neither are that arrogant.

    You could also argue that it’s fairly arrogant to think that as a junior HP engineer you could design and build a whole computer, or for a lowly patent clerk to solve three of the toughest problems in physics. And while Woz and Einstein had an arrogant belief in themselves and / or and arrogant disregard for what was believed possible at the time, neither, from what I’ve read, had outwardly arrogant personalities.

    Like every such thorny question your answer is going to come down to how you define stuff. What metric you use to measure greatness and what you mean by arrogance. How’s that for a non answer!

  5. Hey, you cited my boss! Does Joel or Bill come off as more arrogant in that story? :-)

    Another related question: can anyone create truly great things without being an all-around jerk? To me, being kind to other people and giving my marriage the time and attention it needs is not optional. But the singleminded intensity that creators of complex, elegant artifacts display often means leaving the minor decencies in the dust.

    I once knew a guy who said there was no such thing as arrogance. Perhaps arrogance is not having a fear of failure.

    You’ve heard of the tact filter, and how geeks have it going the opposite direction from regular humans? There’s a confidence filter, too. I have certainty indicators qualifying my speech, telling people how much I can back up what I’m saying. People who seem arrogant just say everything with no qualifiers, letting other people decide how much to trust their statements. They break Grice’s maxim of quality, which makes others uncomfortable.

  6. Hey, you cited my boss! Does Joel or Bill come off as more arrogant in that story? :-)

    Carefully unspecified, as with most of the links ;)

    Paul C.: Can’t speak to Codd, but Engelbart had a fair amount of arrogance in him, if some of the stories in What The Dormouse Said are to be believed. Really, all of the pioneers of that era did- what they were doing was considered completely insane by most of their peers. But Paul F. and Larry Wall may have it right- hubris may be the word I was really looking for here.

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