Managing Mount Stupid
After months of hard work struggling to develop the new product, you are called up to the CIO (Chief Innovation Officer). He is upset with the lack of progress:
Your team has been working on this product now for five months and still no prototypes or patent applications. How hard can it be?
I am sure you have faced similar situations several times. Situations that make you angry, frustrated, or even furious. People who have less knowledge complain about your progress or the methods you use.
You are dealing with a concept in psychology called the Dunning-Kruger effect. However, we apologize for using the Dunning-Kruger effect irreverently in this post.
Dunning-Kruger is a type of cognitive bias. Persons who know little about a subject think they know more than the experts. Ignorant, unwise, or even stupid people are usually the most confident. Or to quote John Cleese:
“The problem with people like this is that they are so stupid that they have no idea of how stupid they are.”
People involved in product development are more likely to be negatively affected by this than others. Many times we are working with complicated technical matters that are hard for some people to grasp. They are climbing “the wall of ignorance” while you, after working with this matter for years, might be in “the valley of despair.” Their confidence is much higher than yours. Not because they know more but because they know less. And because their confidence is so much higher than yours, they think they can advise you on what to do and how to do it.
In the case above, both parties make mistakes. The expert assumes everybody else has the same or at least enough knowledge — the novice by overestimating his experience and not recognizing his area of incompetence.
We are all climbing Mount Stupid all the time. Dunning-Kruger effect tells us that we, as humans are not very good at evaluating ourselves. We all have areas of incompetence, where we overestimate our experience and knowledge. We are experts in many fields but novices in others.
So the next time you are arguing with a stupid person, make sure the other person is not doing the same.
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