Just when I thought I’d worked out how dumb I was, along came some research that suggests that the situation is even worse than I thought and I am dumber than I ever expected, I just didn’t know it. We are all blissfully unaware of what we don’t know and that’s fine and probably quite reassuring. It might be quite demeaning if we could really quantify the magnitude of our ignorance, if we had some idea of how little we knew. How scary might that be?
But here’s a twist. What if I told you that the most intelligent person is not neccessarliy the person who knows the most, but could in fact be the person who knows the least, or at the least, knows very little? They just know they know very little. Confusing? Yes. Confucius said:
“To achieve and maintain an adequate measure of the good life, people must have some insight into their limitations”.
Did the word confuse come from Confucius? It wouldn’t surprise me.
So the secret is, the one little advantage that these lucky people have, these not so smart people, who seemingly know more than even the smartest person, is ’They know how little they know’.
Right, going to sit down now, have a coffee and take that first paragraph in. Phew, hope you’re not as confuciused as I am.
The Dunning Kruger Effect
“The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate.” Dunning–Kruger effect
What the research tells us is, that people who have less than average knowledge or capability in a given subject or activity, have an inclination to overstate their ability, and probably with a smile and an unnerving air of confidence. I just hope that my doctor’s not in that cohort.
Dunning et al conducted research where 141 students were asked to indicate how well they had done on an exam as they left the classroom. The students were asked to estimate how they had performed against their peers as well as to estimate their raw score for the test. Those students who were in the bottom 25% of all performers, estimated that based on their raw score they would finish in the 57th percentile, when in fact their actual results positioned them in the 12th percentile. Yikes!! And there is a great deal more research completed that supports these findings across a range of real-world settings.
It is interesting to note that conversely, the smarter amongst us, will estimate their rankings lower than what they actually achieve.
Performance and Development
One of the things that this highlights for me, is the need to ensure there is a strong relationship between a line manager and his/her reports. It is critical for both parties. It is critical for the report to ensure that they are genuinely improving and achieving their development goals (not just thinking they are), and it’s critical for the line manager to ensure that they are maximising the performance of his/her team. A strong relationship requires open and honest communication and regular/effective feedback. None of us like those nasty surprises at performance review time when the boss slaps us across the face with a cold fish, by revealing his/her assessment of our performance is vastly different to our assessment.
Check this out
“For example, Zenger (1992) studied several hundred engineers at two high-tech companies and found that 32% of the engineers in one company and 42% in the other rated their own performance in the top 5% of all engineers. Imagine the difficulty of conducting honest performance evaluations for these engineers.
Although workers may find it tempting to blame their supervisors when they receive a less than stellar evaluation, research suggests that they should trust their supervisor’s views more than their own.” (Dunning)
Imagine that, I know you can, most line managers will battle with this scenario many times in their career. Now one of the worst things a line manager can do is to leave all of the feedback until the annual review when there is no time left for an individual to make changes to their performance. That is as much an issue of poor performance on the Line Manager’s behalf. Regular reviews are essential.
But for you:
Self Evaluation Time – Out with the ol’ mirror.
We all need to be very aware of our limitations. How do we do this? We need to constantly work at improving our self-evaluation skills. That’s our ability to consider our performance, our actions, behaviour and activity and critically assess these against the targets, goals we set ourselves, or even simply our intensions.
Now I know you’re thinking, “How do I evaluate my own performance when you’ve just said, research has proven, I have no idea how well or otherwise I am doing?”
Okay, let’s get practical. Out with the self-improvement toolbox. 3 Great tips
Don’t leave the management of your performance and development entirely up to your manager. It’s a new world and there is a strong expectation that we each manage our destiny.
One of the practical things that you can do, is to diarise your activity, in particular specific activities and outcomes. All of us need to be setting goals and looking to continuously improve in the workplace. The way to do this is to seek feedback and to seek it regularly. We all need to value feedback and see it for the opportunity that it is. It’s from this feedback that we can continually tweak our performance and realign our performance with the expectations of our manager and our companies.
- So set yourself some goals, some SMART goals, record your activity (what you’re doing, the outcomes you expect and what you actually got), and seek feedback from your manager and from your peers in order to clarify and confirm your performance.
- Organise regular meetings with your line manager to ensure you are each aligned in relation to your performance, and to avoid those nasty annual performance review nightmares.
- Surround yourself by people you trust, people who know things that you may not, people who are good at things that you may not be. That’s what smart people do.
Acknowledging that you don’t know everything is the first step to learning a whole lot more.
P.S. I am always really grateful if you share the post on your favourite social media which you can do by just clicking on the buttons on the right hand panel. If you really enjoyed the post then please subscribe for an email alert once a week.
Many thanks to James Westmore for his wonderful artwork.
References: Flawed Self-Assessment Implications for Health, education and the workplace. David Dunning (1), Chip Heath(2) and Jery M. Suls(3) – (1)Department of psychology, Cornwell University; (2)Graduate School of Business, Stanford University; and (3)Department of psychology, University of Iowa