Monday, June 23, 2014

Are You are Surrounded by Idiots? Unfortunately, You Might be the Idiot...

Does it feel like you are surrounded by idiots?  How is it possible for so many people to be confident in their abilities and be so incapable?

Every year on  American Idol they show case confident people that can't sing to save their lives that seriously think they can sing. Every wonder how so many people could be deluded about their ability to sing?

On the flip side, some of the best singers on the show clearly lack confidence in their abilities.

A 2009 study1 shows that the most incompetent people actually believe that they are above average.

People that are ignorant that are unskilled or incompetent tend to be very confident of their abilities.

In fact everyone thinks they are at the 60% level or better, in particular, every person in the bottom 50% think that they are at least at that level, i.e. above average.

So we believe that we are above average sometimes, whether this is true or not.

Interestingly enough people in the top quartile (i.e. the competent ones) think that they are at a lower level than they really are. They believe that other's are more skilled than they really are and so self-evaluate themselves lower.

If you confident that you are above average at something, what if you are really bad at it?

You might assume that observing others would prevent you from having an overblown sense of competence. Shockingly, this is not the case.  When incompetent people observe others, even those better than themselves, they tend to have a higher opinion of themselves.

So even if you are bad at something, you won't figure it out by looking at other people.

The only people who self-evaluate correctly after seeing other people are the competent people, who correctly self-assess that they are better than other people.

Only under one circumstance were incompetent people able to realize their incompetence. When given training on to do things, the bottom quartile revised their opinions of themselves down to about 30%. This was still much higher than their average actual results (12%), but at least they realized that they were below average.

If you really want to know if you are above average at something then you must get training from experts.

In North America, there is a strong belief that we are all intelligent and that training is not necessary. This belief that we don't need to be trained is deadly and consequently it means that there are many pretenders out there.

So be careful before assuming that confidence = competence.

Also, you may want to be careful of any subject which you have not put much effort into but are confident that you are competent.

Odds are there is something that you think that you are good at but it may turn out that you are the idiot!

As Mark Twain once said (ironically, of course):

All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.


1 Kruger, Justin and Dunning, David. Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments, Psychology, 2009, 1, p.30-46.

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