Don’t Ignore Your Own Ignorance

In 1995, a bank robber tried to hide his identity from cameras by rubbing lemon juice on his face. He genuinely believed that the same properties that made lemon juice effective as invisible ink would also work on his face. Sadly, he was arrested later that night.

Few years down, psychologist David Dunning at Cornell University studied that people mistakenly assess their competence as being much higher than they are. They found that a person with low expertise in a task or subject overestimates their actual knowledge in that task or subject. It stems from the idea that people are unable to recognize their incompetence, mainly because they are incompetent.

If you know someone whose performance is sub-optimal, and they’re not only clueless that their performance stinks but they’re confident that their performance is excellent, you likely saw the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.

If you observe yourself closely, in tasks where we lack expertise, we often exaggerate our actual knowledge leading to uninformed decisions.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Dunning-Kruger effect & the more you start looking, the more it pops up everywhere from politics to business.

What can we do? Mr. Dunning himself answers –

First, ask for feedback from other people, and consider it, even if it’s hard to hear. Second, and more important, keep learning. The more knowledgeable we become, the less likely we are to have invisible holes in our competence. Perhaps it all boils down to that old proverb: When arguing with a fool, first make sure the other person isn’t doing the same thing.



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