Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Dunning-Kruger effect...

'Neon Jester' by Thomas Hawk
under a CC license
...or 'confidence and competence are two very different things' or, at a more direct approach, 'never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity'.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is the condition where one feels confident for one's performance, despite the fact that one doesn't have the required skills. At the same time, skilled individuals may lack confidence because they assume that they are no better than their peers. Thus, self-evaluation tends to work in different ways in skilled and unskilled individuals, with the former being more critical to their performance while the latter failing to realise their shortcoming.

The Dunning-Kruger effect manifests itself in many parts of everyday life and could help explain several of the shortfalls we witness around us. For instance, managers that may have been selected for their confidence and overall attitude, may be prone to repeated errors of judgement, if they are not skilled on the subject matter of their business. Since a tall, multi-layer management structure is commonly adopted across many sectors, such cases might be more common than one would think.

However, the effect does have its limits and it can be mitigated or, even, avoided. The fact that it does not demonstrate itself at the same intensity across different cultures indicates that it is affected by the way people are raised and the environment they are exposed to. It also suggests that is can be addressed though the education system, which would also work on the approaches that people use for self-evaluation.

Indeed, we need to ensure that people understand the value of expertise, especially when we are talking about people that go up the management ladder. We also need to make experts more visible and accessible, in particular to people in power. More importantly, we need to find ways to promote teamwork and encourage the formation of multi-skill (and possibly also multi-cultural) flexible groups within organisations, not being afraid to use flat or matrix organisational structures, so as to ensure that problems are correctly identified and assessed and that solutions are well-conceived and implemented.

These are easy things to say but would require plenty of small changes in order to ensure that such system would survive. For example, remuneration, benefits and motivation perks would need to be allocated under a modified rational. Appraisals would also need to be carried out in a different way. Quality practices (which normally do assume that tasks are carried out by suitable experts) may also need to be adapted.

Dilbert by Scott Adams, Strip of 26/08/1992

No comments: