Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It's hard to get it right

Raise your hand.. how many of you have listened to someone, or watched someone, and thought 'That person is not nearly as smart as they think they are', or 'That golfer/dancer/painter/whatever is not nearly as good as they think they are'?

Aha... I see all of you raised your hand  (some of you raised both hands, and one of you raised a foot... I'm not quite sure what that means, so I'll just ignore it).

Next, raise your hand  (just your hand, and one is sufficient!) if you've ever had the reverse experience...  someone seems to take their own knowledge, or expertise, or skill for granted... and not realize that they are more than just average?

Ok, still a few hands that time (and a tail?  oh wait, that's the cat), although not as many.

This is not a case of people intentionally trying to be deceptive -- well, ok, maybe some of the time it is but most of the time, this is not intentional deception, but instead it's the  Dunning Kruger effect, with a little bit of the Imposter Syndrome thrown in.

Simply put, the Dunning Kruger effect stands for the proposition that those who don't know any better, don't know enough to realize that they don't know any better,  while those who DO know better assume  that everyone knows better.. which makes them undervalue their knowledge.

Oh dear.  That doesn't sound very simple, does it.
Let's try this again.

About fifteen years ago, two psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger determined that incompetent people, by the very nature of being incompetent, were unable to recognize their own incompetence.  But there's a flip side to this.  Those who are competent, still don't get it right.  They assume that other people generally know what they know, and have the skills and abilities that they have, which results in them overestimating other people, and underestimating themselves.

And in case that's not confusing enough, let's throw in The Imposter Syndrome.  The imposter syndrome is a situation when someone is convinced that they don't deserve the success they've deserved, despite evidence to the contrary.

I'm no statistics expert... truly, I'm not.  That's not the imposter syndrome talking, that's not the second part of the Dunning Kruger effect, it's a fact.   I've never taken a statistics course.  But I do know that, by definition, half of us are better than average, and half are worse than average... whether we're talking about intelligence, golf, or bowling.  For every Tiger Woods, there's a golfer out there who misses the ball entirely, when they take a swing.  For every Albert Einstein, there's someone who's likely never even heard of Einstein.  And the extremes are actually fairly easy to discern, I think.  Tiger knows he's a good golfer, I know I am not.  However, most of us are not at one end of the spectrum or the other, we're somewhere in the middle.  And this is where Dunning Kruger comes into play.  If you know enough to know that you're not the worst, and you know enough to know that you're not the best, how do you go to the next step and determine whether you're above average, or below average?

But here's the surprise ending... as I've been pondering this issue over the past week, I've concluded that in most cases it doesn't matter.  And if it does matter, there's certainly someone who will tell you.  Of course, you have to be careful, because they might not be right.

The Dunning Kruger idea has been in the news a lot, lately, and it caught my interest.  But now that I've explored it, it's really not very interesting, is it?

Time for tea, which is always interesting, and always better than average if you choose the right tea.


  1. It's a very interesting phenomenon, this Dunning Kruger idea. I'll raise my hand for each question you posed (and wiggle toes because reasons). And completely agree with your classification of the extremes being easy.

    I love your surprise ending - "...they might not be right." That had me laughing.

    Hope your tea was good. The hot cocoa I'm drinking ATM certainly is. :-)

  2. Glad I could make you laugh... I aim to entertain!!

  3. I enjoyed your post! You led us along to your " they might not be right " ending. Loved it. (And I do find it interesting.)