Friday, July 17, 2009

Today's Words, class...Hubris and Humility

Within the past couple of weeks, I've finished a couple of popular books: Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, and Jim Collins' How The Mighty Fall. Both are worthwhile reads, but they point to a larger theme that tends to emerge after any crisis, but particularly systematic and cyclical crises. People and institutions tend to get themselves into trouble when their pride passes a certain (apologies, Mr. Gladwell) "tipping point", and the pain is arguably correlated between the altitude from which they descend, the speed of their descent, and the gap between the credit they are due versus the credit they ascribe to themselves.

Oddly, the tipping point metaphor seems appropriate here because sustained success seems to be a balancing act. Humility can hamper one's endeavors if it prevents actions out of a sense of propriety or deferrance or unworthiness. However, confidence can disintergrate into hubris over time, quickly or slowly, leaving individuals and institutions out of touch with the objective world as it is.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not talking about humility as some sort of milquetoast submissiveness. I'm talking about understanding that much of one's success can be credited to fate and timing. Knowing and acknowledging that fact requires one to be diligent and attentive, responsibe to changing circumstances, and above all led by wisdom and facts, never vanity and assumption.