Why Are Incompetents So Certain?

I stumbled across Rob Millard’s blog, The Adventure of Strategy, and found a name for a phenomenon that has long plagued me, the Dunning Kruger Effect.  This is so brilliant that Dunning and Kruger won the Nobel [major correction per Rob; the  Ig Nobel prize.  Well, that changes things, doesn't it?] Prize for it in 2000.  I wish I had thought of the name first so I could have won a prize.

The concept is simple and counterintuitive:  People who have little knowledge think that they know more than others who have much more knowledge.  Put otherwise, those who have no clue what they are talking about, do so with greater confidence than those who actually do know what they are talking about.

Dunning and Kruger, both from my alma mater, Cornell University, hypothesized as follows:

  1. Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
  2. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
  3. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.
  4. If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.

Now Rob Millard takes this phenom into places where it can be addressed, such as creating hard goals in law firms so that incompetents can’t refute their inadequacies because there is some objective sign of failure that they simply can’t ignore.  Frankly, my experience is that incompetent individuals are never at a loss for finding ways to rationalize their failures and thereby never have to face the fact of their incompetency.  It’s just a matter of having a sufficiently fertile imagination combined with the overdeveloped ability to ignore anything that fails to fit into your personal self-vision.

Obviously, the application of this concept is essentially unlimited.  Whether it be judges, prosecutors, spouses, whoever, there is always some secret joy to be had by applying the D-K Effect.  It makes for a great game at parties, too!

So now that it has a name, at least as far as I was aware though you may have been paying closer attention to the Nobel Prizes in 2000 and caught this one the first time around, go out and apply it at will.  And remember, the next time you tell someone how certain you are about something, “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

6 comments on “Why Are Incompetents So Certain?

  1. Apgraham

    Actually they won the “Ig Nobel” prize in 2000. Cash value versus the real thing – not so much. Scientific merit and relevance – often better.

  2. SHG

    My bad.  Rob corrected me on this one too.  Nobel/Ig Nobel.  What can you expect from a lawyer?

  3. Simple Justice

    Political Cynicism Close Up

    We indulge in political cynicism on a national level because it’s just a fun pastime without really having any personal knowledge of whether candidates mean what they say or are just
    pandering for a vote.

  4. Simple Justice

    Political Cynicism Close Up

    We indulge in political cynicism on a national level because it’s just a fun pastime without really having any personal knowledge of whether candidates mean what they say or are just
    pandering for a vote.

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