One of my favorite pieces of research…

I’ve moved a bunch of times in the last 5 years and, if I’m honest, I’ve accumulated more junk than I should have.  So I spent part of Labor Day going through some old boxes that are well past their purge date.

Some of it is the ever increasing box of "valuables" that you keep from each job you have — stuff I’m proud of (first real business plan, press coverage etc) or stuff that I thought would be useful again in the future.  As a side note, this box was the original inspiration for disruptorMonkey’s products.

One of the items I found was a press article from January 2000 about some research by Dr. David Dunning, a professor of Psychology at Cornell. 

Dr Dunning was studying incompetence.  One of his conclusions was that "the skills for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence".  As noted by Justin Kruger, one of Dr Dunning’s grad students at the time, this means that "Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to recognize it." 

Ouch.  Double whammy.  Incompetence often encompasses an inability to recognize your own incompetence.

The study goes on to note that not only are incompetent people unaware of their incompetence, they tend to be overly confident in their abilities, grossly overestimating their performance in comparison to their peers.

And the crowning glory?  The study also found that incompetent individuals were less able to recognize competence in others…

Talk about a bad cycle to get stuck in.

But here’s the question:  I like to think that I’m a reasonably competent individual.  You probably like to think that about yourself too.  How do you know you’re not incompetent and just blissfully unaware of it?

That’s enough messing with your head for one day.  You can read a summary of the research and a link to the original paper here.  Happy reading!

1 comment for “One of my favorite pieces of research…

  1. September 5, 2007 at 12:27 am

    I would be far more competent if the incompetence of others wasn’t so emotionally draining. To quote an incompetent person I recently had the extreme displeasure of dealing with, “That’s no excuse, it’s just the reason.” He also explained that he gave me inferior quality materials because he didn’t think I would notice. I have to stop now before I cry.

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