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The Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Lake Wobegon Effect. The Overconfidence Effect.

You may have heard of some or all these terms, or they may be new to you. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is your willingness to understand them – to learn their definitions, the context in which they apply, and absorb the knowledge to the best of your ability. Simple, right?

Not so fast.

For many people who experience the above-named effects, learning new things is a challenging task, not only for the person who experiences life through a sometimes crippling filter of self-importance, but also, for his or her peers.

The origin of Krueger-Dunning and related effects

In December of 1999, David Dunning and Justin Kruger published the results of a study they conducted with Cornell undergraduates. The purpose of the study was to investigate the relationship between personal competence and awareness, using a series of tests designed to measure participants abilities in areas like grammar, humor, and logic.

The results demonstrated by and large that those who performed poorly on tests tended to overestimate their abilities, as well as underestimate those of their peers. Specifically, it was found that:

  • People demonstrating incompetence see themselves as more skilled than they are
  • People demonstrating incompetence rarely recognize genuine skill and ability in others
  • People demonstrating incompetence cannot perceive the degree of their inadequacy
  • If trained to improve their skills, incompetent people can perceive their previous shortcomings
  • Overall, as Dunning and Krueger noted, study participants who scored in the bottom quartile on tests overestimated their ability grossly – imagining themselves to be on average 50% more skilled than they were. However, those who performed well on tests tended to underestimate their abilities.

    In the end, those afflicted with the Dunning-Krueger effect tend to make poor decisions, inaccurate judgments, and experience difficulty communicating with and working with others.

    What happens in the workplace

    Take a group of people sitting at a conference table conducting a meeting. You have the meeting leader, which can be anyone – the director of a department, a CEO, the head designer of a creative team, or the communications manager – it all depends on the purpose of the meeting. Then you have the rest of the meeting participants. And then you have the person under the influence of one of the above-named effects, who, sometimes unintentionally, overestimates their worth in relation to his or her peers’, and has trouble making accurate assessments, due to a simple but deep seated lack of insight.

    The outcome of this all-too-common workplace scenario? Come back to find out.


    4 thoughts on “The Internet Boom and Office Politics: Not A Match Made In Heaven
    1. Brett says:

      A person who sees through a “…filter of self importance” can be incredibly detrimental to group or work related problem solving. It’s a challenge for all members of the group, because time and energy is spent by the group members trying to either a) understand why this person is acting so self important, or b) understand how they can be more self important.

      So in the meanwhile, the original problem still lingers or grows, and new problems arise amongst the members group. It’s a really weird and far too prevalent phenomena – one I really wish, for productivity’s sake, could be abolished.

    2. Holly says:

      Great picture!

    3. Very interesting thoughts Amanda! I love your commentary!

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