How the Dunning Kruger Effect Impacts, the Overall Effectiveness of Your Team

In 1995, two psychologists from Cornell University, David Dunning and Justin Kruger published a research paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that made a groundbreaking discovery about human behaviour. They found that people who lack the knowledge or skills needed to achieve their goals will overestimate their abilities and have little insight into their shortcomings. We refer to this phenomenon as the Dunning Kruger effect. Thus, the more incompetent you are, the less aware you will be of your incompetence.

Definition of the Dunning Kruger Effect

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes. In other words, those who are incompetent overestimate their level of skill. Therefore, they tend to stay inept because their self-confidence offsets any chances for them to develop a realistic view of how skilled they are. They do not know that they are bad at something because it is hard for them to discern what skills they have acquired from those that remain elusive. This results in overconfidence about a person's own abilities and can lead people to take on tasks that are beyond them.

Understanding How It Affects Individual Perceptions

It is easy to assume that most people who are incompetent in some way know that they lack skill in that area. The reality is often much different. Research suggests that, due to our human tendency to favour information that aligns with how we want to see ourselves, many people who are bad at their jobs do not even realize it.

Understanding Its Impact on a Team

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a well documented human phenomenon that suggests ignorance is not bliss—it is a beacon for incompetence. So what does a team need to do to overcome its susceptibility to incompetence? Identify it, for one thing. Realize that you cannot understand everything about an issue or project. Realize that you may not know what you do not know—and realize when to ask for help.

Preventing It From Hindering Your Team

The Dunning-Kruger effect may be most relevant when it comes to setting goals for your team. If you are not aware that you might not know what you are doing, then there is a higher chance that you will not account for it when devising an action plan. An excellent way to prevent these blind spots from affecting your team is by working with individuals who are already excellent at what they do. If they need guidance, outsource to experts or hire consultants. In addition, when seeking feedback on your idea, ask people whose opinions and thoughts on business and strategy align with yours and can help steer you in the right direction. As Sun Tzu said: If we know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory...