Monday, March 19, 2007

Science Strikes Again! Incompetent People Don't Know They're Incompetent

In my previous post I discussed how scientists examined meetings in the corporate world and determined that “meetings make us dumber”. In yet another scientific breakthrough, Cornell Professor of Psychology Dr. David A. Dunning has determined that incompetent people really have no clue that they are incompetent. Wow, now that’s an incredible piece of scientific work. Some key points from the study were:

“People who do things badly are usually supremely confident in their abilities – more confident, in fact, than those who do things well.”

Incompetent people have “a deficiency in ``self-monitoring skills,'' the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market -- and repeatedly lose out ..”
“In a series of studies, Kruger and Dunning tested their theory of incompetence. They found that subjects who scored in the lowest quartile on tests of logic, English grammar and humor were also the most likely to ``grossly overestimate'' how well they had performed. In all three tests, subjects' ratings of their ability were positively linked to their actual scores. But the lowest-ranked participants showed much greater distortions in their self-estimates.”

So how does this relate to an actual work experience? How about the below scenario:

I’m sure you have been in staff meetings in which your boss had absolutely no clue about what they were talking about and just kept going on and on as if they invented the subject they were discussing. Meanwhile you and your co-workers put on your interested and engaged look as you casually peek at your watch giving a sigh and a thought “only five more minutes of this crap.”

Then just when you think the meeting is over, the new guy actually challenges or questions something your boss said. The “new guy” hasn’t become a Turtle yet and doesn’t understand that he’ll never get an educated answer from the boss. What he has done is encouraged more pointless and clueless discussion from the head honcho.

Then your boss throws out the not so funny anecdote and everyone give the fake chuckle, thinking that the meeting is finally over. It’s not over though as the laughter has only encouraged the boss more and yet another story results. It’s torture, but as a Turtle you endure it, lay low and just hope the meeting ends soon so you can go back to your slow and steady work.

Dr. Dunning’s study points out scientifically that being a Turtle at work is most likely your only choice for survival if you are stuck with incompetent leadership. Dr. Dunning points out that his finding support Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that ``he who knows best knows how little he knows.'' How true indeed!


I've often wondered how some of my co-workers received their degrees. They cannot spell, their writing is totally illegible, and they answer questions with another question.
I am convinced some of it is laziness, like when they stand at the copy machine and flap their hands and cry for help. I tell them, "Read the screen. It will tell you what the problem is".
Now, I only have a high school education, so naturally, they think I don't know anything. Truth be known, I am the one who shows up on time, fields the irate client at the reception window, and basically keeps the place running smooth.
Thank you for the chance to vent. I'll be visiting frequently.

A co-worker of mine was the most talentless, lazy and one-dimensional prima donna I've ever witnessed on any job. Let's call her "Elaine." She was a friend of the manager, who hired her because he felt sorry for her following a divorce. What Elaine lacked in skill and diligence she made up in attitude and cunning, knowing just who to buttonhole and flatter. She actually seemed to take pride in how little work she accomplished by the end of the day, as if expending effort drained rather than advanced her life. Besides, less glittering personages (meaning me) could always be counted on to take up the slack, while the manager looked the other way.

Fast-forward two years. The manager has been promoted to another location, his replacement has come and gone, and I have transferred to a different department within the building. By seniority, Elaine becomes manager. True to form, she schmoozes while underlings attend to tedious daily responsibilities. Being incompetent, she doesn't recognize incompetence in her department, much less herself. Any mirror tells her who is fairest. But upper management finally catches on. Within six months, Elaine is gone, convinced to the end that her fall is not due to any shortcoming in herself, but to the envy of the less fabulous.

I hear you. There are far too many Elaine's out there that cause the masses stress. Companies want yes-men who will simply follow like lemmings. I have also worked with managers like Elaine, unfortunately I was always the one that had to leave, while the Elaine's of the world continued to prosper and attain power. Thanks for your post and good luck Turtling out there!

Turtle King

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