Arrogance vs. Stupidity – does it matter?

Don Box asks which is more harmful to a business — arrogance or stupidity?

When I first read this, I thought that it was an impossible question to answer. It seemed to me that Don was asking us to compare levels of arrogance against levels of stupidity. While it is possible to compare one stupid act against another and say which act was more stupid, this is an impossible task when comparing an act of arrogance to an act of stupidity. It’s like the classic apples vs. oranges problem.

Then I thought of a different perspective. Which is harder to make amends for — an act of stupidity or a an act of arrogance? I think the answer is clear that stupidity is easier to overcome than arrogance. The answer comes from putting yourself in the perspective of the customer.

When somebody commits an act of stupidity, they have made a mistake. We all make mistakes. We have all had to apologize for our mistakes. Sometimes we have to make amends for our mistakes. In more serious cases, we have to do some more work, such as explaining to the aggrieved what we are doing to prevent that mistake from happening in the future. Sometimes we can’t make amends, but that is the exception to the rule.

When we commit an act of arrogance, we have also made a mistake. However, arrogance connotes a sense of disrespect. We can try to do all the things that we did when we made a stupid mistake. We can apologize. We can make amends. We can explain what we’ve changed to prevent the problem again. But even with all these actions, there is a good chance that a wounded pride is involved. No matter what we do to apologize, we treated somebody with an attitude that said “You don’t matter to me.” That becomes a personal attack, and that is much more difficult to resolve.

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