Dunning–Kruger effect

swagger, baby!

Us humans are a walking, talking paradoxical, subjective mass of biases, prejudice, and self-delusion. And that’s ok. Except that one of the side-effects of our subjective mass of biases, prejudice, and self-delusion is that we believe that we are rational, reasonable, objective, and impartial.

I find these biases fascinating because us humans are making decisions every day yet rarely understand how we decide. Laurie Ruettimann (@lruettimann) recently had a post on Fistful of Talent that included video discussing the processing fluency bias. Watch the video, but the gist is we have a bias for ideas that are easier to process or understand even when they are inferior. (I suspect this explains 90% of marketing and political debate. Maybe 100%.)

Now let’s stack on my favorite bias: the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  In short, this is when the unskilled and incompetent grossly overestimate their own skill and believe they have above average ability (you’ve worked for this person, haven’t you?).  The flip side of this is that the truly skilled tend to underestimate their own abilities. Or as, Bertrand Russell put it: “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Examples abound in both the business world and in our personal lives.

  • Who do you hire, the job candidate with confidence/bravado/swagger or the one who seems hesitant or uncomfortable talking about themselves?
  • Which book title would you buy? “The ONE Proven Way to Riches!” or “One Method to Wealth That’s Worked for Several People and Just Might Work for You, Too”?
  • Which consultant would you feel more comfortable working with: the one who matter-of-factly states they have the solution for hiring better people or the one who tells you that there are several potential solutions, but never a guarantee because no selection system can predict the future performance of individuals – it can only improve the overall chances of making better hires?
  • How many people do you know who consider themselves above average drivers? What’s the mathematical possibility of that? From your own experience, how many people do you see on the road who are above average? Exactly.

Our brains are wired to prefer pithy soundbites over complex reasoning and the untalented often believe they truly have skills.

Explains a lot, doesn’t it?