“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
–Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist
Have you ever listened to someone drone on and on about a topic, displaying incredible confidence in their knowledge about the subject, and yet you knew they were full of crap and in over their heads?
You may have witnessed The Dunning-Kruger Effect.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is named after a Cornell University study done in 1999 by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. The study is about self-awareness and incompetence. Roughly summed up, it says incompetent persons often display disturbing levels of self-confidence and superiority because they lack the ability to 1) recognize competence and expertise and therefore 2) are unaware of their own incompetence. That’s why we have YouTube and reality television “celebrities” who can’t see that they are not in reality what they are in their heads.
It sucks to admit you suck at something. But those affected by the Dunning-Kruger Effect are blissfully unaware of how little they know. This has consequences for lots of people. It is not surprising that Google searches for the Dunning-Kruger Effect have increased quite a bit in the past three years. You can do the math on that one.
So how do you avoid the trap of thinking you are better at something than you really are? Here are some tips:
- Read, listen and view widely on your work, interests, hobbies and passions. Assume that your knowledge is deficient and needs regular updates and additions. Be committed to continuous learning in every form.
- Get feedback on those things you’re working on. These might include things like photography, sports, writing, performing and fine arts, leadership, finance, etc. It’s best if the feedback you seek is objective and searching. Your mom and dad will always love your art work but seek the critique of a professional artist if you want to improve. A pro who cares will tell you if your work is lacking and how to improve. A loved one who did well with his investments told me, more than once, “When you have money, go to those who understand money; don’t go to your friends.
- Set the bar high. Look to the best of the best and follow their advice and practices. When I’m studying classical guitar, I listen to Andrés Segovia. When I’m trying to improve my writing, I pay attention to Stephen King. When I’m trying to improve my leadership and self-differentiation skills, I go to Edwin Friedman. For investment advice, it’s Warren Buffett.
This is first in a series of posts that will deal with ways in which we regularly fool ourselves and how to avoid them. We’ll help each other avoid the banana peels.