Posted in Human Behavior

I am an idiot, but I know that - By L. Burke Files

L. Burke Files is the President of Financial Examinations & Evaluations, Inc.


I am an idiot, but I know that

OK, its sound like a humble admission or a weak faint to avoid criticism. Actually, this admission is a very strong vein of knowledge and mining this vein keeps me in check. Let me explain… I have spent 25 plus years looking into the corpses of commercial ventures that became awesome and spectacular failures. Some failed from arrogance, some from fraud, some from bad luck, some from corruption, and some from all of the above. A common thread is a promoter, the CEO or a key employee were absolutely cock-sure of themselves and their ability, wisdom, and insight, when in reality they possessed none of these qualities. The actual qualities they possessed were more like the qualities of the Black Knight of Monte Python fame.


In the movie Monet Python and the Holy Grail, King Arthur is travelling through a forest when he enters a clearing. He observes a fight taking place between a Black Knight and a Green Knight. As King Arthur watches, the Black Knight defeats the Green Knight. Arthur then congratulates the Black Knight and offers him a place at Arthur's court on the Round Table, but the Black Knight only stands still, holding his sword vertically, and makes no response until Arthur moves to cross the bridge.


The Black Knight moves to block Arthur and says "None shall pass". King Arthur, in a conciliatory manner, asserts his right to cross the bridge and praises the evident bravery of the Black Knight. Again Arthur moves to pass. The Black Knight moves in Arthur’s way and declares again, "None shall pass". Reluctantly, King Arthur fights the Black Knight and, after a short battle, the Black Knight's arm is severed from his body. Even at this the Knight refuses to stand aside, insisting "'Tis but a scratch", later insisting that he, the Black Knight, has "had worse", the Black Knight continues to fights holding his sword with his remaining hand. Then, his other arm is cut off, but the Black Knight still does not concede. As the Knight is literally disarmed, Arthur, assuming the fight is over, kneels to offer a prayer of thanks to God. The Black Knight interrupts Arthur's prayer by kicking him in the side of the head and accusing Arthur of cowardice.


This scene is undoubtedly one of the best-known of the entire film. “Tis but a scratch!" has since become an expression used to comment on someone who ignores a fatal flaw or problem, either out of optimism, ignorance or stubbornness.


So how does this apply to business failures? I see Black Knights wearing suits in law firms, hedge funds, those who are on boards of directors, and as entrepreneurs. They are so cock sure of their place in life and the world and plow merrily off a cliff or right into a wall - at full speed of course. So what are “the tells” that you are dealing with a “Black Knight”. The tells are less than subtle… unbridled optimism, and in the singular opinion, they are always right – and you are, as they would say it, “Who are you?”


You will here statements such as: I know that answer. No. You’re wrong. This is how it is going to be done. This is what we are going to do. We don’t need an attorney, we can do the contract via


Just listen for the statements of unbridled arrogance and self-confidence with an utter lack of need for the input from anyone else.


As soon as I see a “Black Knight” I immediately cringe and look for a way out or a hedge to protect myself and my clients. The “Black Knight” is always a wreck, looking for a bollard to plow into. Examples - A relative went to see a medical doctor about a skin issue. The doctor just looked at it and said “I know what that is. Here is a cream that will help.” I said to my relative - get a second opinion as no tests were done and I innately distrust the “I know” answers. Well, it was not what it was first diagnosed, but rather precancerous skin cells. The solution was simple and cheap - but it was the “I know” that bugged me.


Yet, we tend to gravitate toward the self-confident. Right or wrong. Why do we do this? The answer is not simple. From my experience we gravitate toward the self-confident as we may lack confidence in ourselves or our own viewpoint. Some gravitate toward self-confident persons as it absolves them from having to make choices with which they are uncomfortable. It is also easier to feel confident as opposed to questioning or doubting. We, as humans, generally like our minds to be restive not restless. Confidence, wrong or right, is, for the mind, a restive state.


Now, back to “I am an idiot”. I am not an idiot or a fool, but I have a sufficient appreciation of “knowing” and humility to know that as soon as I am certain of an answer, to begin to question my answer. Surety is a comfortable place. Being sure of what you know and what to do in a given situation is a very comfortable spot. And if anything, I wish to make my life, my life’s journal, and my professional journey uncomfortable enough to keep asking myself and others questions. I do not wish to merrily plow off a cliff or right into a wall - at full speed. I have chosen to give myself no refuge but to think.


Mr. Files is a published author of five books, in particular "Due Diligence for the Financial Professional, 2nd edition 2010" and "Money and Budgets" other writing and material can be found at .  Mr. Files is an international speaker on these topics. 


FE&E, Inc. is an international investigative firm specializing in, fraud prevention, asset recovery, due diligence, anti money laundering and intellectual property. 


As a financial industry insider for over 30 years he is keenly aware of the type, and accuracy of the information required to make decisions. Mr. Files has been the case manager on fraud investigations ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to over 3 billion.   As an international expert on due diligence and Intellectual Property and Critical Information (IPCI) he is regularly sought for those cases that bedevil the desktop practitioners. 


This article is courtesy of the Top 1% Club and the Top 1% Club Mentor Gail Kasper. For additional information on Gail Kasper, her television appearances and speaking engagements, please visit