Monday, August 25, 2003


The following is from a paper called Unskilled and Unaware of It:
In 1995, McArthur Wheeler walked into two Pittsburgh banks and robbed them in broad daylight, with no visible attempt at disguise. He was arrested later that night, less than an hour after videotapes of him taken from surveillance cameras were broadcast on the 11 o'clock news. When police later showed him the surveillance tapes, Mr. Wheeler stared in incredulity. "But I wore the juice," he mumbled. Apparently, Mr. Wheeler was under the impression that rubbing one's face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to videotape cameras.

This story came from the documented research on human competency conducted by Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University. Published by the American Psychological Association, the paper also states:
We bring up the unfortunate affairs of Mr. Wheeler to make three points. The first two are noncontroversial. First, in many domains in life, success and satisfaction depend on knowledge, wisdom, or savvy in knowing which rules to follow and which strategies to pursue. This is true not only for committing crimes, but also for many tasks in the social and intellectual domains, such as promoting effective leadership, raising children, constructing a solid logical argument, or designing a rigorous psychological study.

Second, people differ widely in the knowledge and strategies they apply in these domains, with varying levels of success. Some of the knowledge and theories that people apply to their actions are sound and meet with favorable results. Others, like the lemon juice hypothesis of McArthur Wheeler, are imperfect at best and wrong-headed, incompetent, or dysfunctional at worst.

Perhaps more controversial is the third point, the one that is the focus of this article. We argue that when people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the mistaken impression that they are doing just fine.
Well, there! What I've known all the time is formally confirmed by reputable scientific research. The study also confirmed another observation I'm sure most people have had. And that is that people who are exceedingly incompetent somehow always seem to think highly of themselves. Research confirms that incompetent people don't have the intellectual skills necessary to accurately evaluate their own or somebody else's performance. I've had bosses that fit this description precisely.

The article is interesting, detailed and convincing. Worth reading.

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