Confident Idiots

We are all confident idiots:

In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize — scratch that, cannot recognize — just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers — and we are all poor performers at some things — fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack.

What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

Pacific Standard

As I read it (and as you may be reading it) you find yourself nodding, oh so slightly. Yes, yesyes! Of course!

But the reality is that we’re all confident idiots, where our confidence in _____fill_in_the_blank_____ feels like knowledge, even wisdom at times and where we grossly overestimate our ability to know, understand, and then practically apply.

And for many of us, we just can’t even begin to think of ourselves as incompetent, but we are. We just are… in so many more ways that we ever would admit (or even be able to be aware of).

I think about this dynamic all the time. I think about it when I meet people for the first time. I think about how they posture, how they are, like me, grossly overcompensating… for whatever reason.

I think about how much I don’t know about _fill_in_the_blank_ topic and how much they don’t know either. I think about how, together, we are even more worse off than we are as a couple, or team, or unified front.

And yet… and yet! Teams of confident idiots make magic. Seemingly-random collections of individuals are able to overcome their mass-stupidity and build the very future.

How is that not grace? How is that not mercy? It must be spiritually-bound as there’s just no other way.

Or is there?

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