Hubris vs Humility

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In continuation of yesterday’s message…

On the morning of the Battle of Waterloo on Sunday, 18 June 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte who was leading the French Army against the British army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, assured his soldiers, “I tell you Wellington is a bad general, the English are bad soldiers; we will settle this matter by lunchtime.”

Well, by the end of that day, Napoleon was defeated and that ended his rule as Emperor of France.

Around 100 years after Napoleon’s arrogant remark and defeat, on 15th April 1912, just before the Titanic was about to embark on its maiden journey, one passenger asked a ship’s agent for extra insurance on some valuables in her luggage. The agent replied, “Ridiculous. This boat’s unsinkable.”

Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith himself was asked about the safety of the Titanic. He answered – “I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”

Then, after the ship had struck the iceberg, a concerned passenger asked a sailor if they should do something about it. He replied, “Go back to bed. This ship is unsinkable.”

Move forward another 90 years and consider the example of Enron, and the e-mail that Kenneth Lay, then the CEO, sent to his employees in 2001. He declared, “Our performance has never been stronger, our business model has never been more robust. We have the finest organization in American business today.” That was less than four months before Enron filed for bankruptcy.

The point is that if you are repeatedly successful, there’s a temptation to believe that you’re no longer subject to human fallibility. But the honest and harsh truth is that in a world that is continually changing, every right idea or strategy eventually becomes the wrong one.

With an arrogant attitude, you cease paying attention to differing viewpoints. Confirmation bias takes its roots in your brain, and you screen out all the sounds that tell you how you’re wrong and amplify those that tell you how you are right. Thus, it’s important to beware of hubris. When it bites, it bites hard.

Hubris is basically an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities. This is particularly true when the person is in a position of influence or power.

Most people think it will never happen to me. (The Optimism Bias)

And it might not to any great degree. Let’s hope it doesn’t.

But the thing about hubris is that you rarely think you have it until it’s already run an unhealthy portion of its course.

Staying humble will keep you from risking too much in a view of the future that may well turn out to be wrong.

Don’t be blinded by hubris.

A little humility can help you steer clear of disaster.

Be humble & stay blessed forever.