Oh To Be Blissfully Unaware Of Our Own Incompetence

Oh To Be Blissfully Unaware Of Our Own Incompetence

I question my own ability several times a day, every day.

I look at others in my field of professional expertise who seem to have supreme confidence and I worry that I may actually be grossly under-qualified to be putting myself out there in the same company.

I worry because it’s scientifically proven that most incompetent people don’t know they are incompetent.

It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect after two psychology researchers from Cornell University who conducted a series of experiments after noting many references in other studies to people’s ignorance of their own performance. David Dunning and Justin Kruger found that for a given skill, the majority of incompetent people will:

  1. Fail to recognise their own lack of skill
  2. Fail to recognise genuine skill in others
  3. Fail to recognise the extent of their own ineptitude

The researchers noted the irony of the situation is that in order to recognise those things, the person would need to possess the very skill they lack!

The other significant finding they made was the reverse applied to people who did have the skill in question…

Actual competence tends to weaken self-confidence and people with true skill generally under-estimate their own ability.

This is not a new concept though. Noted philosophers and scientists have been talking about it for centuries.

Confucius said “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”.

Charles Darwin said “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”.

Bertrand Russell eloquently put it like this: “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision”.

They Probably Won’t Try To Improve Either

Dunning and Kruger found that incompetent people can recognise their own previous lack of skill if they are exposed to training for that skill. The problem is that they are unlikely to seek out such training.

Why would they if they don’t know?

Public speaking is a classic example. People who seek help with public speaking typically do so because they lack confidence. But the bigger problem (in the business world at least) is confident speakers who really could use some help because they are confusing, offending, and boring their audiences.

What Do We Do Then?

A couple of important points to keep in mind:

  1. Not all confident people are incompetent
  2. Not all people who feel self-doubt are highly skilled

I think our best bet is simply to have enough self-awareness to look objectively at our own performance on a regular basis and couple that with the desire to really master whatever is we are trying to do. Even better, get a mentor or coach, or find someone we trust completely to provide us with informed objective feedback and guidance.

Doing those things will always put us a step ahead of those who never ask any questions of themselves and sure enough, the genuine ‘earned’ confidence that only comes from actually being good at what you do, will follow.

(Originally published Nov 2013. Updated April 2016).

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications

 

Beware The Danger Of Comparing Your Life To Others

Beware The Danger Of Comparing Your Life To Others

“One reason we struggle with insecurity: we’re comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.”

– Steven Furtick  

Like a lot of you, when I look at some other people’s lives they really seem to have it together and have everything going for them and, even if just for a fleeting moment, I often feel inadequate in comparison.

But then occasionally you get a glimpse below the surface and realise that  not everything is as perfect as it seems. They are just like us or perhaps even more inadequate, insecure, or incapable.

In a personal sense, they probably struggle with the same issues we do with their relationships and families. In a business sense, people have a tendency to only share their successes and achievements because they perceive that revealing their weaknesses will reduce their credibility.

So when you’re feeling that way and starting to doubt yourself, remember that you are probably just seeing the best bits of other people’s lives. Their daily grind is most likely just the same as, or even harder, than yours.

 
 
David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications

 

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Real Fears Vs Irrational Fears

Real Fears Vs Irrational Fears

Most of us understand that fear is something that often prevents us from doing things that we want to do and achieving things we would like to achieve. The problem is that many of us take the wrong approach to conquering our fears because we don’t understand the difference between what I will call ‘real’ fears and ‘irrational’ fears.

Real fear is something that is justified because there is potentially a real consequence. For example, I would be afraid to jump in a tank unprotected with a dozen starving sharks. That’s because there is a very real possibility of me being dinner.

Irrational fears on the other hand, are fears where the consequences we imagine in our own mind are far worse than what is likely to be the case in reality. When you look at them logically there is no real justification for the fear.

Public speaking is a classic example of an irrational fear that many people have. 

They imagine they will be humiliated and embarrassed if they mess it up. In reality, I’ve never seen a speaker openly taunted or humiliated by an audience – except for comedians, but that’s part of their territory. Elsewhere, such as in the business world, it just doesn’t happen.

When people set out to conquer some of these irrational fears and build up their self-esteem, they often make the mistake of trying to use real fears as a substitute. They believe that if they overcome a real fear by going swimming with sharks or jumping out of a plane, then they will be able to do anything and conquer anything from that time on. 

These activities might provide a temporary feeling of euphoria. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any evidence that shows they are beneficial in fixing fears that have their origins in low self-esteem, self-doubt and other vulnerabilities of the mind.

Overcoming irrational fears requires substantially more time and effort.

Things you might try include:

  • Trying to work out the original source of your fear and asking yourself if it is still relevant in your life.
  • Finding a supportive friend or group to help you put your fear into perspective.
  • Like Nike says ‘just do it’ then keep doing that thing you fear until you’re no longer afraid.
  • In severe cases, where self-esteem issues stem from past trauma, you need to consider seeing a psychologist or counsellor. 

So if you want to go swimming with sharks, by all means do that, but do it for the experience that it is, not because you think it will be a three-minute fix for all of your irrational fears.

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications

 

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david@wisewords.nert.au

 

 

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