Skip to content

Consultants Done In By Dunning-Kruger

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
1 min read

“What do I know, anyway?”

If you’ve ever thought this, you’re in the elite company of extremely smart, sophisticated, and talented experts.

The reason is a pretty well-documented cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Years ago, David Dunning and Justin Kruger heard about a bank robber named McArthur Wheeler. He robbed banks without a mask, but covered his face with lemon juice because he believed that it render his face invisible to security cameras. He was wrong.

This led them to publish a study called “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” Their theory is now known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and it has a simple translation: some people are so stupid that they’re unable to recognize their own stupidity.

This led to follow on studies they conducted with college students. Subjects were asked to take a self-assessment, then they were asked to rank themselves among their classmates. What happened?

  1. Students with low scores tended to rank themselves too high
  2. Students with high scores tended to underestimate their rank

The new learning is especially interesting. The hypothesis is that highly competent people believe that what comes easy to them is also easy for others. I’d also posit that highly intelligent people tend to be both perceptive and curious, which means they’re constantly finding out about new things that they don’t know.

As a service provider, perhaps you’ve felt this. Probably not when you’re applying expertise, but more likely when you’re selling or marketing.

You ask that question I mentioned at the top: “What do I know? Am I the best?”

Maybe there’s someone out there you admire, and you feel they do better work than you. That they have better ideas. But what you’re missing is that you might still be better than 99% of people in your market.

If you’re a legitimate expert, chances are you’re underestimating your skills, worth, and value.

Check yourself, would you?

Notes