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Mind Readings: Preventing Dunning Kruger Effect

The Dunning Kruger effect is a cognitive bias whereby people who have relatively low ability or expertise in a particular domain tend to overestimate their knowledge or ability. This can lead to disastrous consequences if left unchecked. One way to reduce the likelihood of this happening is to use the specificity test: when faced with a task or a domain of knowledge, ask yourself how specifically you would go about solving the problem or accomplishing the task. If you can’t come up with a clear and specific plan, then it’s likely that you are overestimating your abilities and the Dunning Kruger effect is at play.

Mind Readings: Preventing Dunning Kruger Effect

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Christopher Penn 0:00

In this episode, let’s talk about reducing a specific kind of cognitive bias the cognitive bias known as the Dunning Kruger effect.

The Dunning Kruger effect is a cognitive bias.

It’s a thing that we believe that is incorrect, whereby people who have relatively low ability or expertise or experience with a particular domain of knowledge, tend to overestimate or dramatically overestimate their knowledge or ability.

We see this made fun of a lot in in business management, people being referred to as pointy haired bosses, and saying things like, well, if I don’t understand something, it must be easy.

Or people having just unfounded confidence in doing something, they look at a task and they say, oh, that must be easy.

I can do that.

And obviously, this can go very badly, right? If if you have somebody who fails to recognize their own incompetence, if they’re a bad manager, but they think they’re a great manager, right, that back can go really badly for everybody.

There’s somebody who thinks they’re amazing at web analytics, and the end, they’re not, if they believe they’re good at SEO, and yet, they can’t get anything to rank for anything.

If they believe that they are empathetic, or they are well loved, and not those are all examples of Dunning Kruger effect, counteracting it is very, very difficult.

Like any kind of cognitive bias, the only way to counteract it in somebody else, while there is no other way to counteract somebody else, but a person has to want to counteract it themselves.

And that requires a certain degree of self awareness that not a lot of people have myself included.

The thing that I try to do to reduce it as much as I can, is with specificity, right? If I look at a task, or a domain of knowledge, and my first instinct is that unfounded confidence, I can do that.

I asked myself, well, how would I do that? Right, something like a part of my vacuum cleaner breaks, I can figure that out.

How, oh, first of all, take it apart and I guess, figure out and see what’s wrong.

I think that’s a pretty clear indicator that I don’t have the specific knowledge, I need to to actually make that change.

And it’s a sign that Dunning Kruger effect is occurring in me.

On the other hand, if I see my email, open rates are down 5%.

Again, I get the feeling, oh, I can fix that.

But now I have a list.

Okay, I first got to check the deliverability numbers, gonna check Google postmaster tools.

I’m gonna check my demark reports.

I’m going to see if I’ve been blacklisted.

And we’re gonna check the dynamic blacklist.

So all these things, I’m going to check through the the headers with the return headers within my inbox.

There’s all these different steps that I know to take to see when open rates are down to figure out why in this case, I know that that level of confidence is not baseless, there is there is good reason for me to have that level of competence because I have that level of specifics to say, here’s how I know how to solve this problem.

Now, is there room for improvement? Of course, there’s always room for improvement.

But at the very least, I can feel somewhat assured that I have specific knowledge to diagnose that problem with specific knowledge that yields that confidence that says yeah, I this is a problem that I can solve.

And that’s sort of how I to the best of my ability rain in that sense of overconfidence.

So if you’re somebody who is concerned that Dunning Kruger effect might apply to you that you might be overconfident in certain areas.

You would want to use this specificity test can you see in your mind, or however it is that you think the specific things you need to do to accomplish the task? How much gray area is there? Right if somebody is laying on the ground, apparently having some kind of medical issue? Do you have the knowledge to do a rapid diagnosis? Right?

I have very basic knowledge, airway, breathing, circulation, the conditions for deciding whether to start CPR or not.

Beyond that, I know that I lack specific knowledge, right? I don’t know anything about neuroscience, right? I don’t know anything about countering anaphylactic shock other than if they have an EpiPen stick in the middle of their leg.

But knowing the boundaries of your knowledge, testing the boundaries of your knowledge by asking yourself, How specifically do I know how to solve this problem is how you rein in the Dunning Kruger effect to reduce the likelihood you’re going to be overconfident.

And overconfidence can literally be deadly, right? If you have spent, you know, 50 hours playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, you might think that you’re capable of landing an actual plane? Are you actually capable of landing an actual plane? I don’t know.

But this would be a good test to say, okay, what are the things that I would need to know how to do to land a plane? If you were asked to land a plane and you’ve got 500 hours or 5000 hours in a simulator? And you can recite the exact checklists, you know, what number to put the flaps at what your airspeed should be at what your angle of attack on your nose should be.

All those things would indicate that yeah, okay, you’re probably ready to go ahead and land that plane if you need to.

So that would be my suggestion, and it’s something that you can certainly discuss with others.

Probably not in a situation where you’re accusing someone else of being under Dunning Kruger effect, because people can be very defensive, but as a way of explaining it to it outside of a that context and introducing that specificity test to people so that they can check themselves if they if they are so inclined.

So that’s what’s uh, that’s what’s on my mind today.

Thanks for tuning in.

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