You’re not as smart as you think: exploring the Dunning-Kruger

Picture a team of slip and fall lawyers arguing about the legal process of helping someone process the claim. In the middle of the debate, one lawyer highlights how doctors go about in treating a broken femur bone. Due to the confidence in outlining the process, everyone assumes that the lawyer is indeed knowledgeable. However, there’s a problem- he is wrong.

How often are we in a similar position? Plato and even the greatest thinkers of our time have always emphasized that we don’t know as much as we think we do. If anything, the more we read and expand our knowledge base, the more the awareness that we don’t know dawns on us. However, just like the lawyer, reading an article on the newspaper about a patient’s personal experience does not suddenly make them experts. How many of us have quoted things we’ve learned to be the final authority despite our lack of skill in the said area?

The confidence in our ignorance is what the Dunning-Kruger theory explores. In the test they conducted, it was those who were less than average in their profession that scored themselves high in test rating their perceive competencies. Ironically, those who were exceptional were more modest and accurate in rating their performance. What these results depict is how the human mind is biased.

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How being bias affects our professional lives

That is however not the only bias the human mind has. Others include The Sunken Cost Fallacy and the Hyperbolic Discount bias, and like the rest, show how our thinking and reality do not always align. In a professional context, thinking we are competent in a skill that we do not leave us vulnerable to mistakes that we proceed to justify.

Using an example from The Little Book of Stupidity by SiaMohajer, a person investing in stocks and still losing money can convince themselves as being very good at making investments. Spending time doing something (no matter for how long) does not make you a pro at it. That is especially if the results of what you’re doing continue to be contrary to your proclamation of being good at what you do.

Overcoming the bias

The awareness of the Dunning-Kruger bias is the first step to overcoming this wrong thinking. However, don’t expect to become attuned to your prejudices overnight, or even in this lifetime. What you can do instead is to continually question your knowledge base especially when working, or having conversations and arguments about things you know for sure. Being alert to the bias means that you’ll learn, even professionally, to continually countercheck your existing “wisdom” to the truth.