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RIM co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis, left, and Jim Balsillie. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)
RIM co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis, left, and Jim Balsillie. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

MARK EVANS

The fine line between confidence and arrogance Add to ...

One of the most important traits for entrepreneurs to have is confidence.

When you operate in a world with uncertainty, volatility and risk, confidence provides entrepreneurs with the ability to keep pushing ahead, even when there are difficulties and challenges, few customers, or a lack of faith from all those surrounding you.

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There is, however, a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

Confidence means being committed to your entrepreneurial vision but still having the right perspective and a healthy attitude. Arrogance, on the other hand, is confidence that has spun out of control. Arrogance is when you start thinking you are better or more special than other entrepreneurs or companies. Confidence is sexy; arrogance is ugly.

The difference between confidence and arrogance struck me last week in the wake of the senior management shakeout at Research in Motion Ltd., which saw the departures of Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis as co-CEOs.

A lot of people are trying to figure out what happened to RIM, which went from being the world’s leading smartphone maker to a bumbling, stumbling player with falling market share and an uncertain future.

There are many reasons for RIM’s troubles, including network outages, a half-baked tablet (the PlayBook), delays in the launch of new software, and the rise of intense competition from Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android operating system.

But I think another crucial element for RIM’s abrupt and discouraging fall from grace is arrogance. After following and writing about the company for more than a decade, my take is that RIM went from being a humble upstart to a company oozing with arrogance from becoming the king of the hill.

Along the way, something happened to RIM. It stopped acting like a “Canadian” – confident, upbeat, optimistic but also empathetic, healthily modest and engaged. Instead, it seemed to lose touch with its customers, the media, bloggers, developers and, arguably, the Canadian high-tech community.

To me, RIM started to think of itself as invincible and impervious to competition. This may help explain why it was caught with its pants down by the success of the iPhone, a device RIM dismissed as a toy trying to compete against the much-loved BlackBerry.

And it may help explain why RIM has fumbled the ball far too many times in the past couple of years not only from a technology perspective but, just as important, in marketing and public relations activity that has been confusing, ineffective and unengaged.

If RIM has any chance of rebounding, it needs to drop any shreds of corporate arrogance but keep the confidence. Maybe that will give it a shot at creating products, marketing campaigns and public relations activity that resonate with target audiences, as opposed to badly missing the mark.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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