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Mar122012

Unskilled and Unaware

Unskilled and Unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments 

Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Cornell University, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1999, Vol 77 #6

 

This academic paper was brought to my attention via Paul Gomez of Gomez Training International.  He had part of the abstract in his signature over on the Total Protection Interactive (TPI) forum.  It seemed like a very interesting, and frankly, amusing study based on the language he quoted from the following abstract:

"People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains.  The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in the domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”

 

While it seems a little lighter-hearted than a lot of academic studies, it still gets to a very serious point.  Just because you think you're good at something, doesn't mean you are good at it.  In fact, if you think you're good, you are probably deluding yourself.  Expanding on the paper, which focused on not having the metacognitive (thinking about thinking, yes, I had to look up the definition the first time I saw that word too) ability to accurately self-assess, we also need to consider that a lot of people with inflated self-assessments believe in that assessment because their egos are too fragile, or powerful, to allow that person to accurately assess their performance.

 

If you look further than just the humorous abstract, and view the data, you'll see that the people who actually are good at what they do, are actually prone to under assess themselves.  How many times have you seen someone do something truly impressive, only to have them say something like "Yeah, I'm alright."  or "I'm really not all that great."  or "I still have a lot of room for improvement."?  Meanwhile, someone with no skill or experience in that same area is somewhere on the internet, or hanging out with friends, or trying to impress a girl, and talking about how great they are.

 

Let this be a lesson to all of us.  Train hard, do the work, and never stop being brutally honest with yourself, because that's the only way you'll ever become truly great at anything.  In the context of protecting yourself and others, you can't afford not to.  The same goes for the people you choose to train you.  Do not let someone else's ego and "Because that's the way we do it." get in the way of your learning. 

Take care,

Mike

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