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The biggest idiot you will meet in life will be the person that thinks they know it all. Christopher Jones

In last week’s show I talked about outcomes, why you might want them and what you could do to achieve them. If that sounds interesting to you then head back and have a listen but today I am talking about a type of cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their knowledge or ability, particularly in areas with which they have little to no experience.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is when a person does not have skills or ability in a specific area but sees themselves as fully equipped to give opinions or carry out tasks in that field, even though objective measures or people around them may disagree. They are unaware that they do not have the necessary capabilities. It also suggests that people with less competence in a given area are more likely to unknowingly overestimate their competence, while high performers often have a tendency to underestimate their skills and knowledge.

I want to raise this with you as time and time again in the past I have found myself believing what some idiots tell me about themselves and I think it’s something to look out for. I continually face the problem that completely inexperienced people these days seem to think that because they can watch a YouTube video or have read about something on social media through the eye of a skewed media, they believe that they are experts. Raising the topic here may at least forewarn you that they are out there or help you to recognise the ones that are already in your life. I’m also raising it accurate thought, they ability to recognise facts from fantasy is a key productivity skill.

Named after psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, and published in 1999, the Dunning-Kruger effect simply states that people’s perception of their own skill often does not match reality. In psychology, this refers to a cognitive bias about unfounded beliefs we may have, often without realizing it.

Psychologists have been looking into why people sometimes think they can do more or less than they actually can. One possible reason is the lack of skill in itself. In other words, people don’t know what they don’t know and another possible reason relates to a lack of insight. People are unable to see clearly what they can and cannot do because they don’t have the understanding they need to do this.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing - it only hastens fools to rush in where angels fear to tread. Samuel Johnson

Another contributing factor is that sometimes a tiny bit of knowledge on a subject can lead people to mistakenly believe that they know all there is to know about it. As the old saying goes, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A person might have the slimmest bit of awareness about a subject, yet thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, believe that he or she is an expert.

If a person consistently overestimates their ability, they may also be more likely to reject feedback, and this can play a role in continued under performance. If a student, for example, accepts and acts on feedback after scoring low on a test, they may do better next time.

However, those who already feel they know enough may disregard feedback because they don’t see the need. This prevents them from learning and progressing as much as they could.

The Dunning-Kruger theory has proved popular in management research and development. At work, it can lead to the following:

  • Companies recruiting people who seem confident but have difficulty fulfilling their job role

  • People with limited skills and knowledge gaining promotions, while others with more expertise do not

  • Difficulty responding constructively to feedback, so that performance does not improve despite guidance

  • The sharing and promotion of incorrect information

  • It could also:

  • Lead to errors in decision making

  • Affect the prospects and performances of people reporting to a manager

  • Impact the effectiveness of the overall workforce

And of course, when it comes to underestimating our abilities, which someone pointed out to me just yesterday is a problem I have myself, will hold us back from achieving the successes that we richly deserve.

With realization of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, one can build a better world. Dalai Lama

So, who is affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect? Unfortunately, we all are because no matter how informed or experienced we are, everyone has areas in which they are uninformed and incompetent.

Here are some tips that may help overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect:

  1. Take time to reflect. Some people feel more confident when they make decisions quickly, but snap decisions can lead to errors of judgment. Reflecting on where we went wrong last time can help us move forward.

  2. Keep learning and practicing. If you are afraid to ask questions in case it reveals inadequacies, remember that no one knows everything. Asking the question or asking for help can enable you to move forward.

  3. Question what you know. Are there things about yourself or the world that you have always believed and never questioned? As the world changes, revisiting our beliefs can help us keep up with those changes.

  4. Change your reasoning. Do you apply the same logic to every question or problem you encounter? Trying new approaches can help you break out of unhelpful patterns.

  5. Learn from feedback. Many people feel threatened by feedback, but feedback can help us progress or improve. If you are unsure if feedback is fair, take time to reflect on your own actions and performance before deciding the other person is wrong. While it can sometimes be difficult to hear, such feedback can provide valuable insights into how others perceive your abilities.

The Dunning-Kruger effect can cause us to over- or underestimate our abilities. This can affect a person’s progress and confidence in various fields. It is one of many cognitive biases that can affect our behaviors and decisions, from the mundane to the life-changing. While it may be easier to recognize the phenomenon in others, it is important to remember that it is something that impacts everyone. By understanding the underlying causes that contribute to this psychological bias, you might be better able to spot these tendencies in yourself and find ways to overcome them.

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I hope you’ve found something interesting in all of this. This turned into a longer episode than I had anticipated but I think there’s some value to it.

Next time:

In next week’s show I’ll be having a quick look at the old adage that The Prophet is not recognized in his own land.


This episode is sponsored by Laura Bower (nee Arneil), a high school friend supporting from New Hampshire.

Season 8 Executive Producer: David Richard Thompson


Instagram: @daudspeaks


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