I'm Right, You're Wrong and That's the End of It.
by Ernie Schenck
“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.”
Arrogance is widely regarded in our society as a bad thing. We see it all the time. The Donald Trumps. The James Camerons. The Kanye Wests. Few can argue the arrogance of Steve Jobs, though we revered him mightily. And to be sure, there are arrogant creatives aplenty in advertising. How many of us have had the poor fortune to cross their paths in the course of our journey through what is arguably the most ego-infested creative profession of them all.
And yet, is it all that bad? Is arrogance nothing more than a deceitful bag of imagined greatness, or is there a connection between outsize ego and outsize talent? Does arrogance fuel creativity in some twisted way? Is the one hard-wired to the other? I doubted it. But then I came across some new research and I wasn’t so sure.
The study was conducted by a team lead by psychologist Paul Silvia, of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. It covered a wide sample of creative people and without bogging anyone down in the academic minutiae, suffice to say that creative people almost universally scored low on humility and awfully darn high on pretentiousness and inventiveness.
Well, isn’t that a fine kettle of fish.
But wait. There must be some mistake. I’ve known so many ridiculously creative people. And not one of them has had a pretentious bone in their body. To the contrary, most of them have been humble to the point of near invisibility, although that was never a serious possibility what with all their time in the collective spotlight of every award show in the known universe.
And yet, it was hard to deny. I’ve also known the advertising equivalents of Trump and Cameron and Kanye and while some are creatively as barren as the Gobi Desert, others are undeniably brilliant. Discouraging to say the least, and yet a fact. So there had to be something to the UNC study, ugly as its findings were.
To find out for myself, I did a little study of my own to see what some real advertising people think about all this. Here’s what some of them said:
“Creativity requires confidence or a belief that your vision has worth. Where it gets tricky is, belief also needs persistence, continuing to believe when others don’t, or when your belief hasn’t yet born fruit. Persistent belief can be seen as arrogance, as when people say, why won’t you listen to others? Why are you so sure you’re right? I don’t see a deep belief in a vision or message as arrogant. How we express that persistent, deep belief can be arrogant. The belief itself isn’t. Arrogance is a way of saying something. It isn’t the ‘something.’”
Is it possible that one man’s confidence is another man’s arrogance? If I believe passionately in an idea, the rightness of it, and if I seem to be blind to any other way of seeing it, but you see that passion as driven by nothing but ego, who’s right?
“I think creativity is by nature doing things that have not been done before. Commercial creativity is the ability to do that, and then sell it. Sometimes creativity yields results that are so clear, everyone rallies and supports the kernel of the idea through fruition. But more often, there are naysayers who are not comfortable with unknowns. A good creative person, capable of not just coming up with an idea but also seeing it through to fruition, needs to have self-conviction and self-confidence in order to make it happen. And sometimes that looks like, or even can be, arrogance.”
This got me wondering. If it is possible that arrogance is really passionate self-confidence, and if passionate self-confidence is as important in doing great work as creativity itself, then is it not also possible that there are a whole lot of great creative minds out there and that the only reason we’ve never heard of them isn’t because of a lack of talent but because of a lack of self-confidence?
“Think about how the average person lives and works each day. Those that feel inspired, and know that failure is OK or work in environments where failure is accepted as a part of growth, they deliver better work and better ideas. Intimidation stifles confidence and drives conformity.”
Someone once said, “A mind is terrible thing to waste.” So is talent. But every day that goes by that you do not believe in it, in its prodigious power to change lives and fortunes, in yourself, is a day wasted. And if you don’t believe, who will? ca