Posts tagged ‘dunning-kruger effect’

Arrogant Ignorance

Over the years, I have developed a term "arrogant ignorance" to describe certain people we deal with from time to time.

We often get young and inexperienced contract managers assigned to one of our relationships.   These folks will struggle, due to lack of experience and fragmentary training, to perform their duties, because they really don't know what to do in many circumstances.  We accept the fact that we often know more about our contract manager's job than she knows herself, and try to help them get up to speed.

However, occasionally these folks, despite very obviously not knowing what they are doing, get hugely arrogant and refuse to admit they don't know what they are doing.  They fire off orders and decisions that not only are wrong, but simply make no sense, and then yell at us within seconds for not complying with their bizarre requirements.   I have always scratched my head over this syndrome, and have assumed that it resulted from a combination of:

  • a young person with absolutely no education and experience in how to work in a high-performing organization.  (think about the organizations a 20-something has seen -- public schools, college faculty, maybe a non-profit over the summer, fake businesses on TV -- nothing that would give them any clue how a high-performing organization works).
  • really bad incentives.  Typically, the worst examples have non-existent formal performance management systems where the informal metrics therefore reign.  These informal metrics often default to things like "always look busy" or "always look like you know what you are doing" or "never do anything that will cause your boss to yell at you" or "never get caught making a bureaucratic process error.

Well, I was thrilled today to find that the syndrome I call "arrogant ignorance" actually has a name.  It was mentioned in this article by Simple Justice and is called the Dunning Kruger effect.   Here is the first line from Wikipedia:

The Dunning"“Kruger effect is an example of cognitive bias in which "people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it"[1]. They therefore suffer an illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average.

This also helps to explain another phenomenon we tend to see -- that the absolute worst, most incompetant, most clueless employees tend to be the first (and often only) ones who call me and threaten me with lawsuits over false termination.  The article goes on:

  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.

But at least there is this ray of hope:

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.