On Confidence and Arrogance

Watching the UEFA Champions League Semifinal, in which Barcelona needed to net a goal against a 10-man Chelsea unit, I wondered – when does confidence become arrogance?

To set it up a little for you, Barcelona are one of the best teams ever, they are aggressive, and play with such grace, that to watch can be magical.  They have a style of play, and they have been very successful in its execution.  In this match, they needed a goal to advance to the final.  Chelsea were forced to play a different style due to being reduced to 10 players and were “bunkered in” for the 2nd half.  As the game went on, you could see the frustration in the Barca players as they were unable to break through the Chelsea defense; however, they refused to change the style of play.  They were completely confident they, and their style, would prevail.

It didn’t. Chelsea not only did not allow a goal, but were able to net another one in the waning minutes of the match.

Barcelona refused to adapt to the conditions.  Their confidence became arrogance.  And they paid the price. The good news for them is they get to try again next season.

In your business, are you confident or arrogant?  It’s a fine line, but in business, when confidence becomes arrogance, you rarely get to try again next season.


4 thoughts on “On Confidence and Arrogance

  1. Classifying whether one is confident or arrogant is done by an observer, not whomever is involved. Barca and Chelsea were doing what they were doing, it’s only observers who can say whether their approach was confident or arrogant.

    Like trustworthiness or attractiveness or any of a host of other judgments, it’s someone else who makes that decision by observing. You decide whether I’m confident or arrogant, I can’t make that decision.

    Also, it seems to me, whether one is cast in a positive light (confident) or a negative light (arrogant) often has to do with outcome. Had Barca’s strategy succeed, you’d call them confident. As it failed, they’re deemed arrogant. Either way, Barca actually did exactly the same thing.

    It’s amazing how often the same behavior is viewed different ways depending upon perception, don’t you think?

    All my best,


    • Andy,

      Perception and outcome are incredibly relevant to this. You’re right that had Barca scored, the tactic would have been validated, and in their eyes, all would have been right with the world. This is where it is so true that hindsight is 20/20, and that our opinions are biased by the results. Just think back to the companies portrayed in “Good to Great” – when they looked back they said they were successful because they did this or that; the question I always have is did they realize they were doing this or that while they were doing it – was it really an intentional strategy? We’ll never really know because the opinions are now biased by the results.

      So I wonder if anyone on the Barca bench considered changing tactics as the game wore on? Just as in business, when a prior successful strategy is not working, when do you make an adjustment – or do you stay the course? Like I said, Barca will get another chance next season to win the title, but in business we don’t always get another chance…

      As always, thanks for the comments!


      • Glenn,

        I don’t know Barca and didn’t see the game, but as someone who deludes himself that he can still play competitive tennis, the old line in sports comes up again and again: “Dance with the one that brought ya.”

        You put together an approach, practice endless patterns and try and simplify what’s going on until intuition replaces thinking, letting speed work in your favor. Unless your “A” game is obviously mismatched, don’t change it. If you lose, at least you lost knowing you did what your best at doing as well as you could do it.

        As someone who has looked at changing companies, I think is same is true. Clay Shirky had a brilliant piece on why AT&T couldn’t enter the web host field in 1996. They saw the opportunity and they wanted to enter the field, however their culture, staffing and approach made it impossible. (http://bit.ly/dad3MZ)

        Given your experience and what you recently highlighted with Barca, I’d love to know your thoughts.

        All my best,


  2. Andy,

    Loved the piece by Shirky! The changing of a strategy or tactic does not always need to be wholesale. Sometimes just a little tweak will make all the difference. Barca’s strength is it’s amazing ability to create something with very little space. However, Chelsea had packed in so tight there was less space than “very little”. With the talent on Barca’s team, had they started hitting a few shots from distance, it would have forced Chelsea to defend higher, thus creating the space Barca needed to execute it’s strength. The challenge is knowing when (and if) to adjust. Which makes the game, and business a little more art than science…

    (and that’s coming from an engineer)

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