What’s going on here? Was the interview process flawed? Did the trainers lack ability? Were the firm’s expectations too high? What went wrong?
Those issues could be explained by the Dunning-Kruger effect, so named for David Dunning and Justin Kruger, whose 1999 paper titled “Unskilled and unaware of it” was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. They reported that students who performed badly on a series of tests were more likely to believe that they were skilled and competent than their peers who performed better. Dunning and Kruger suggested that the same lack of cognitive ability that led to poor test scores also hampered the students’ ability to recognise their own shortcomings.
More recently, Brown cognitive psychologist Steven Sloman, co-authored a book called “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone.” The book describes a series of experiments in which people were asked to assess how much they knew about the way various systems work — from toilets to single-payer health-care systems. People generally rated their knowledge of those systems as high — but then, when asked to explain in detail how those systems actually worked, most couldn’t.
It’s why everyone begins writing a novel, single people give relationship advice, shower crooners try-out for reality singing shows, and a businessman believes he’d make a teriffic president. How hard could any of these be, after all?
If you’ve ever dealt with a poor performer, and they’re not only clueless that their performance stinks but they’re confident that their performance is good, you’ve seen the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.
Here it is as a graph (one that always make me laugh a little to myself) relating confidence and competence:
People generally recognize a total lack of expertise when they have no association to it (the far lower left). As Dunning and Kruger put it, “most people have no trouble identifying their inability to translate Slovenian proverbs, reconstruct a V-8 engine, or diagnose acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.” But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Those who have the slightest bit of experience tend to think they know it all (the first, and rather steep, peak). Then, as experience increases, people realize how little they actually do know – how modest their skills actually are. Perceptions reach a minimum (center of chart), then slant upward again. Of particular note: those at the level of genius appear to recognize their talent but still lack the level of confidence displayed by the ignorant novice.