Incompetent people don’t realize that they are incompetent

February 25, 2009 | By | 10 Replies More

Based on a new study reported by the NYT, people who do things badly

are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

Humor-impaired joke-tellers rated themselves as funny . . .

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

It would seem, then, that you shouldn’t ever ask someone whether they are good at what they do.   This is a good reason to downplay the importance of oral interviews.


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Category: Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (10)

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  1. Sounds a lot like alcohol intoxication 😉

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    Many jobs require that one be great at presenting himself as competent, more than the actual fact of it. For example, compare the roles of barristers with lawyers. The former primarily needs to be persuasive in court, and the latter primarily needs to know the law.

    Different competencies, yet both are lumped into one profession here in the Yew Ess Oy Vay.

    For every job requiring competence at a skill, one can find matching jobs needing mainly a projection of confidence.

    Try reporters versus anchor-folk. Contractors versus workmen. First tier versus second tier technical support. Philosophers versus bloggers. Etcetera.

  3. Mark says:

    I guess this would have been called the Ted Baxter syndrome, before we all got a chance to get acquainted with Dubya.

    Does this explain why motivational speakers put such an emphasis on positive thinking and assertiveness? It's for people who want to go straight to success without passing through that pesky competence stage.

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I've been in IT for close to 30 years. I have a small collection of "educational" materials from the alte 1990's concerning the Y2K problem (a.k.a. the Millenium Bug). Videos and books, all porduced by self proclaimed experts who were pretty much clueless about the technology.

    So people who obviously had no idea that the clock in an embedded processor is not in any way related to calender functions jumped on the bandwagon and promoted the doomday scenarios and totally drowned the voices of reason of the few who really understood the problem.

    Note: Just in case anyone is interested, in computer designed parlance, "clock" refers to the system timebase circuitry, which generates signals used to synchronize the data signals within and between the many integrated circuits that comprise the computer.

    When you say "My computer is 2.4 Gigahertz", you are in effect saying "My computer has a 2.4 Gigahertz clock".

    The calender and time of day functions are provided by the RTC or "Real-Time Clock" which actually counts the number of seconds from a specific date and is translated by a program into the M-D-Y and H:M:S formats we are familiar with.

    So what I'm saying here is that many of the high profile experts and pundits are, infact, incompetent.

  5. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Opps, I forgot to add this link:

  6. That NYT article is from 2000?! What's so new about it? I remember reading about that study somewhere before. The article referred to this publication:

    It's from 1999.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's more on this phenomenon, also called the Dunning-Kruger effect:

  8. Dan Klarmann says:

    This is one example of the 2nd Order of Ignorance. I bring up this principle regularly. Here is one detailed explanation, mostly cribbed from a Y2K technical computing article.

    0th Order Ignorance (0OI)—Lack of Ignorance.

    You have the answer.

    1st Order Ignorance (1OI)—Lack of Knowledge.

    You know the question.

    2nd Order Ignorance (2OI)—Lack of Awareness.

    You don't know what it is that you don't know.

    3rd Order Ignorance (3OI)—Lack of Process.

    You have no means, or process, for resolving your lack of knowledge.

    4th Order Ignorance (4OI)—Meta Ignorance.

    Not aware of these 5 levels.

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