Editor’s note: Eric Jackson, a technology consultant and developer, is a regular contributor to Local Tech Wire. His column appears on Tuesdays.

BLACK MOUNTAIN,I got in touch with my inner hunter/warrior recently, becoming the fearless protector of my wife and home against wild beasts. Well, beast. Ok, small, furry critter. In a word, a mouse.

Normally we are the live-and-let-live types, but this mouse got a little too smart for his own good. As soon as we discovered his existence, we went to the hardware store and bought one of those humane traps — the mouse enters over a little metal ramp that tips down as he enters, then flips back up and there he is — trapped. You can then drive him a few miles off and set him free to a new life in a new place. He’s probably not all that appreciative of the opportunity, but at least you don’t have to feel guilty about murdering a cute little critter.

We even knew the drill — we’d done it before. You train the mouse to expect food and safety, first leaving the top of the baited box off, then putting it on, but leaving a gap sufficiently large to escape, and finally leaving it sealed — and presto! You have him.

We got two of the traps, went through the sequence, trained the mouse, then set both, fully sealed.

The mouse entered — and exited — both.

Clever little guy.

And so I headed off to the hardware store again, this time for the old-fashioned snap-trap kind. Baited it, set it, left it — got him.

Kind of a bummer, actually.

The penalty of pride

It set me thinking, though. There is a certain parallel between the mouse and those of us in business who have stepped confidently, even arrogantly into a situation only to find ourselves suddenly in way over our heads and facing the loss of our dreams.

A good entrepreneur needs a certain amount of arrogance. The capacity for faith in the company of nay-sayers and a willingness to fly in the face of advice about the way things ought to be done — these can be critical for the entrepreneur who wishes to innovate.

Unfortunately, far too often, arrogance turns to hubris, and a viable venture begins heading for oblivion.

One reason for this is that we have a tendency to confuse being smart with knowing what we are doing. Even worse, we also think that success proves the point.

As long as the challenges we face do not differ too much from those we have encountered before, we are reasonably safe with these assumptions. There is no denying that intelligence and experience are tremendously valuable.

Colombo’s brilliance

They are not enough, however. Remember the mouse? It was smart. It had impressive success. And it is now dead. Experience is the falsest teacher imaginable when we let it guide us in situations to which it doesn’t apply. And there are myriad stories of mind-bogglingly brilliant people who have made mind-bogglingly stupid mistakes. So what is still missing?

One of my favorite old TV characters is Peter Falk’s Detective Colombo. Colombo always came off as being a little slow and bumbling, kind of stupid really. He asked rather dumb questions and appeared forgetful. Partly, of course, it was an act designed to catch the suspect off-guard. But it was more than an act — instead of lightening-fast reasoning, what Colombo brought to a case was a kind of sincere confusion. Puzzled, he let his puzzlement drive him inexorably toward his goal of clarity — and toward solving the case.

Colombo was definitely smart. And he’d had plenty of experience. But he brought a third quality as well, one that I believe is equally vital to successful, sustained innovation. That quality is humility, for it is humility that allows us to admit our confusion, to appear a little stupid. It is humility that lets us walk into a situation and not know the answer. And so it is humility that opens us up to the most critical ability in an environment of unending and rapid change — the ability to learn.

Eric Jackson is the founder of DeepWeave. He has built his career pioneering software solutions to particularly large and difficult problems. In 2000, Eric co-founded Ibrix, Inc. He is the inventor of the Ibrix distributed file system, a parallel file storage system able to scale in size and performance to millions of terabytes.

DeepWeave: www.deepweave.com