Hubris vs. Humility

It’s pretty easy for a successful marketer to be persuaded that his performance is directly related to his skill.

Same thing with investment managers. In the fiscal year just ended, Harvard paid its top five investment managers an average of more than $4 million. Each. Per year.

Of course, if you believe in the "you must be present to win" theory of management, in which being part of the right organization in the right moment of time is more important than who you are, this is totally outrageous. Surely there were managers just as good who could be hired for a paltry million dollars a year. Surely the high-paid Harvard team was taking no real personal risk. Surely they don’t work much harder to earn 20% for the University than on the days when they might earn just 15%. No real connection between effort and results.

On the other hand, if you belong to the "great minds" school, then this team was underpaid, and if Harvard had just paid a little more, they would have ended up without such a loss on their hands. I think it’s clear from current events that there was no correlation between talent and pay on Wall Street.

Back in 1999, every internet marketer was a genius. And well paid, too. A lot of those marketing geniuses brought hubris to their work. They acted big, spent big and never looked at or learned from their mistakes.

Others, just a few, approached their work with a sense of gratitude. They realized that the good times wouldn’t last forever and they tried to develop skills and insights and connections for the future.

It’s interesting–years later, very few of the arrogant guys have done much of anything. They never developed perspectives or attitudes that extended beyond, "hey, shut up, I’m here, we’re winning," and so they failed once they left the mother ship.

This is why you should hesitate to hire a marketer or salesperson who comes from a successful big company marketer (like Apple or Microsoft). Sure, they ‘contributed’ to the growth of a great brand, but how much? What did they learn? What will they do when they don’t have a one in a million brand and the wind at their back? Or in the case of P&G alum, what will they do when they don’t have billions of dollars to spend on advertising?

Confidence is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, particularly in marketing or investing. Arrogance, on the other hand, is hard to reward. My favorite combination is the quiet confidence of knowledge, combined with the humility that comes from realizing that you’re pretty lucky and that you have no idea at all what’s guaranteed to work tomorrow.