How Good Are You?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

[Picture of Simon Cowell on Red X Factor sign]MY ESSAYS on this site are about correcting so much that I encounter that is misunderstood, misinterpreted or wrong. I mix the anecdotal and personal with the scientific and philosophical — and even the religious. My aim is always to guide my reader to use his or her brains, to reconnect their experience to the truth, and not to correspond to the media’s revisionist version.

I like to think that I am not stating that I am 100 per cent right and everyone else is completely wrong, I just go on my own hunches, memories and knowledge base, and I ask my reader to consider the evidence and make up his or her mind.

Thank goodness too; the truth is that we are all very poor at estimating how clever we are, how skilled we are or even how stupid we are!

Round about the year 2000, came out the published experiments of David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University.  They came up with what-is-now-known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect has something of a wow-factor, and so I felt that I just had to share it here as it might prove useful to be aware of its existence.

[Picture of Britain's Got Talent flag]The effect is that people who are not-very competent rate their own ability higher than more competent people.

It also works the other way; might explain why actual competence may weaken self-confidence to the extent that competent people very often underestimate their abilities.

The effect is about paradoxical defects in perception of skill, in oneself and others — regardless of the particular skill and its intellectual demands, whether it is chess, playing golf, or driving a car.

People really do think they are better car-drivers than everyone else on the road, and better than they actually are.

Dunning and Kruger reckoned that incompetent people will:

  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognise genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognise the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognise and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill — but ONLY  if they can be trained to substantially improve.

Competent and highly skilled people underrate their abilities, and suffer from illusory inferiority.

It is a strange effect indeed, but it explains much about why some people are promoted over more skilled personnel, and why true talent often goes unrecognised. This goes beyond modesty in the talented and clever, and arrogance in the ignorant.

The talented and clever are natively striving to improve, to be better all the time.  They are comparing their standards of performance with the very best in their fields — people that most would not even have heard of.  So this effect seems to ring true as a hypothesis.

It is more interesting however to consider the effect on untalented idiots who think they are better than they actually are, for they are delusional AND cannot recognise talent and skill in others.

In considering the Dunning-Kruger Effect for yourselves, all is not lost; it might just be a question of degree — how delusional we are in a specific area, for a particular skill.  One thing is for sure, though, self-assessment and opinion gleaned  for employee appraisals are a waste of time and effort. CVs and resumes are suspect, and judging or appraising skill sets have to at least try to take this effect into account.

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