Friday, 8 July 2016

The Dunning Kruger Effect

I have been learning a little about the Dunning-Kruger effect (in the wake of the referendum - I heard David Dunning on the radio and did a little reading subsequently). In essence, what Dunning and Kruger's research suggests is that people with low competence in a particular skill tend to over-estimate their competence, quite dramatically. Their incompetence includes an inability to make a sound judgement of their level of competence.

Moreover, those who are highly competent are more likely to underestimate their competence. I am reminded of Socrates, who probably didn't say All that I know is that I know nothing, but certainly had the intellectual humility that seems to accompany great wisdom.

I also reflected on my own complex set of beliefs about myself. I have confessed before to a fair dose of Imposter Syndrome. Is that, in fact, a clue that I am more competent than I perceive myself to be? Not so fast; for I am also pretty clear in my own mind that I am a better coach and facilitator than many others I come across. Is that, then, an example of Dunning-Kruger in its first observed form, and evidence, in fact, of my incompetence?

The best way to address such questions is probably not to pay too much heed to one's own opinion of one's abilities, but rather to seek objective measures and feedback from those who are well-placed to judge.

But the Dunning Kruger Effect raises another interesting question, and that relates to performance management. Conventional wisdom has it that you start the performance review meeting by asking the individual to assess how well he or she is doing. But if the incompetent are likely to believe that they are better than they are, and the competent that they are worse than they are, that gets the conversation into a difficult place straight away.

Moreover, in many organisations, managers shy away from giving accurate feedback in such direct conversations - understandably, because it is difficult. Instead, they make more general comments about the need to Raise the Bar and so on. And that, of course, is also fraught in this context. The incompetent, to whom the message is really addressed, will assume it doesn't apply to them. The competent, who are already carrying the bar over their heads on tiptoe, will believe that they Must Do More, like poor old Boxer in Animal Farm.

I haven't reached many conclusions about this. I need to think further about it.  And in particular I am interested in how it relates to my work on stories (did I mention my book on that is coming out shortly?)  So I would be fascinated in others' views and perceptions.


Incidentally, in doing the extensive picture research necessary for such a well-informed and well-illustrated blog as this, I came across this wonderful image, and found the source to be this equally wonderful blog: all of life can be mapped on a 2x2 matrix of one sort or another...

Those who know me will quickly recognise why this is a significant matrix for me to contemplate...

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