The Arrogant Idiot Thing

By March 4, 2011 12 Comments

As you know, last summer, I wrote an article called 10 Rules for Brilliant Women at The Huffington Post. I receive a lot of email about the article, but of the ten rules, this one seems to resonate the most:

Rule #5: Be an Arrogant Idiot: Of course I know you won’t, because you never could. But please, just be a little more of an arrogant idiot. You know those guys around the office who share their opinions without thinking, who rally everyone around their big (often unformed) ideas? Be more like them. Even if just a bit. You can afford to move a few inches in that direction.

Of course, I don’t really want more arrogant idiots in the world, male or female. Arrogant idiot behavior is taxing to be around, and it causes incredible amounts of waste — of human and financial capital —as people throw out a big idea, generate enthusiasm — and lead a team or company or organization into failure, wasting thousands or millions of dollars along the way — because they didn’t do the right kind of research, feedback-gathering, or humble assumption-testing first.

But many women err in the other direction. The “little voice” in our heads pops up, to say that if it was a great idea, someone else would have thought of it. That we couldn’t possibly have the expertise or qualifications to put forward an idea that will transform our company or industry or country or world.

I want to say: if not you, who? I mean that quite literally. If not a well-intended, caring, ethical and thoughtful person like you — then who?

Your idea doesn’t need to be perfect now — but it does need to be put out there — so that it can mature, get more nuanced, and have it’s impact on the world.

I recently got this note from a blog reader, in response to my post on Playing Big:

“One thing I’ve noticed with women is how frequently we feel the need to keep preparing: “I don’t know enough, I need more classes” when many men will jump in half prepared and just “go for it”!

What’s strange is that I see this same behavior in my children, my son will raise his hand first thing in class when he doesn’t even know the answer — he just wants to be called on and then he’ll figure something out! My daughters on the other hand would not even raise their hands unless they were sure about the answer. It seems in the nature versus nurture debate — nature definitely has the upper hand (or maybe its just testosterone!).”

I suspect the “why” is some combination of nature and nurture, but who knows? What matters is that we need to be aware of this tendency in ourselves and to respond consciously to it.

Many of us need to be should be saying things that make us feel as if we are being arrogant idiots — doing the things that activate the little voice in our heads that says, “Don’t say that! What do you know? Leave it up to them (the boss, the experts, etc.)…they most see something about this picture you don’t, etc.

So here’s a little quiz for you. Choose A or B, whichever you feel best applies to you.

A: I propose my own unique ideas when they are well researched, fully formed, and tested in some way. __

B: I propose my own unique ideas when they are still forming, untested, un-researched — and I’m not sure if they are right or not. __


A: I feel qualified to speak mainly on the things I have formal training or deep expertise in. __

B: I think my smarts, critical thinking skills, and unique way of looking at the world give me something valuable to contribute on a wide range of subjects and I share my opinions and ideas — even when I don’t have training or deep expertise in the topic at hand. __


A: It’s my responsibility to do all the due diligence I can to make sure an idea will succeed before I ask others to invest time or resources in it. ___

B: I’m willing to take a team along with me to pursue my vision or idea — even before I’m sure it will work. I mean, who can predict what will work? __

Where did you answer A and see that you’d like to move more in the B answer direction? What would that look like for you?

This isn’t just about being successful at work. The spiritual side to this is that it’s really about being true to yourself, honoring your voice, honoring the point of view that life/God/universe gave you — and trusting that it is your path to share that point of view. It’s also about being vulnerable, and about getting in the sandbox to play with the other kids.

It’s also about serving the world. I’m tired of feeling, after I came home from a walk with girlfriends on a Saturday morning, that I just heard ten brilliant insights and ideas that could change the world —from sane, ethical, smart, humble women. The problem is that those ideas are getting heard mostly on walks and over coffee and on phone calls among female friends around the world —when they also need to be taking center stage in op-ed pages, in board rooms, and on the floors of congress.

I think this is the era to change that, to take the points of view and perspectives and questions and ideas and new frameworks and innovations that are present but latent within us, and bring them forth—big, bold, revolutionary—into the culture.

Love, Tara

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Meg says:

    Great post, Tara. Really interesting concept! I actually tend to lean a little more toward “arrogant idiot” than most, but it’s not conscious. It’s just that I get so excited about a new idea, I can’t help but dive in. It’s only a few weeks or months down the road that I stop, look around, and realize I’m hopelessly lost. And at that point, quitting isn’t an option – you’ve just got to figure it out.

    I’ve always seen this as a huge liability, and tried (unsuccessfully) to curb that tendency in myself. But maybe, as you point out here, there are positives to that instinct that I should be taking advantage of!

    Good food for thought.

  • Awesome and while I may not have used the terminology you use (which I love BTW :)), I have so wanted to be more of the arrogant type. Often it seems like the squeaky wheel gets the grease while many of the real talents and real quality sit (wait?) quietly on the sidelines. I tell my kids to speak up and own their power because no one else will do it for them…and yet, I am not so great at doing this for myself!

    Thank you!

  • Brigitte says:

    I tend to be quite good at “the arrogant idiot thing” at home. But then I go to work and start self-censoring like crazy.

    Until lately, that is.

    I knew I was giving notice soon, so I started speaking my mind. And my colleagues took notice. It has entirely changed my experience in the office — I wish I’d use my voice years sooner.

  • Funny you mention this. According to an article Huffington Post these differences are marked and result from nurture.

    Bright girls tend to give up faster on something that’s challenging to do or learn. Bright boys go for it.

    Little girls gain self control earlier than boys. They are often praised for being “good”, for being “smart.” Little boys are generally a hand full; they get encouraged to apply themselves. “You can do this.” “You can learn this.”

    Later in life, when we face something difficult, we interpret this as not being good enough or smart enough. Men redouble their efforts.

    Thanks for the post! Your powers of observation are spot on.

  • Marianne says:

    I’ll be forever grateful to my father for his dedication to raising three daughters who think their opinions are worth sharing, and who are used to having men twice their age stop and listen seriously.

    Thanks to Dad, I’m a little bit more of an arrogant idiot than the rest of our culture would have me be!

  • iamronen says:

    I can vouch that this isn’t just a challenge for women.

    I try to add two conscious ingredients when I do put myself out there: heart and dispassion.

    Heart presence is a pre-emptive energy that helps me contain “attacking” energy that I may meet (communicating with my father is where I have learned to do this!). My heart, I have found, is a better discerner & guide then my mind in times of friction.

    Dispassion is another pre-emptive attitude that reminds me to not take things personally. It keeps me from exagerrated (emotional, intellectual, etc.) responses.

    I guess what I am saying is that putting myself out there is a first step – and that I also need to be able to “be out there” once I am out. Otherwise I may end up inducing a negative experience for myself … which may inhibit me from going at it again.

  • The Frugal Style says:

    This totally resonates with me. It was actually something I was dealing with today. There’s a job here locally I would like to apply for, as a graphic designer. They want a lot of experience, and I’ve applied with them before. I haven’t received any call backs before (it was for more of a manager position). So I was skeptical of applying, but it’s for a museum (my masters is in Arts Administration with a museum focus) and I am a graphic designer. Seems like a no brainer. But I am scared they’ll say no again, that I’m not experienced enough… But I’m starting to learn that I don’t have to know it all to be good in a job. I can learn as I go and still bring me to it. I am going to apply, because even if they say no I know I could do a fantastic job for them. Even if I still have things to learn.
    Melissa 🙂

  • Melanie says:

    Great article. It reminds me of a favorite quote by Jacqueline Novogratz – “Just start. Don’t wait for perfection. Just start and let the work teach you. No one expects you to get it right in the very beginning and you’ll learn more from your mistakes than you will from your early successes anyway. So, stop worrying so much and just look at your best bets and go.”

  • This article talks about women and arrogance or the lack of it (without being explicit about it).. reading it I remembered your article and realized I had to paste this here.

  • […] do this for lots of reasons. We don’t want to appear arrogant. We aren’t totally sure about what we are saying. Or we fear being wrong, and so we buffer […]

  • […] do this for lots of reasons. We don’t want to appear arrogant. We aren’t totally sure about what we are saying. Or we fear being wrong, and so we buffer […]

  • i am not good at says:

    I am not good at the arrogant idiot thing. What I do is start makiny jokes about arrogant idiots. Then I end up making people laugh about their absurdities. SO, wonen mainly laugh at men. We feel that if a man truly loves his woman than he is like this woman that I just met. I told her that in play roling to show her. Then she realized how much she loved her Hells Angel biker. Because he did get on his hands and onees to tell her how much he loves her and to forgive him. Then he went looking for her because what sue has been doing is punishing him for what other men have done to her. She sair, I love him. Bring me home to him.

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