ANN ARBOR, Mich.–Looking to be a little less dumb at work—and also a little less oblivious to where you’re, for lack of a better word, “stupid.”
David Dunning, a University of Michigan psychologist after whom the Dunning-Kruger Effect is named, has offered some advice on how you can avoid falling victim to the condition. The Dunning-Kruger Effect holds that while the competent are often plagued with doubt, the incompetent tend to be blissfully sure of their excellence.
During a recent interview with Vice that was then highlighted on Inc.com, Dunning said the Dunning-Kruger effect offers ways all of us can be both a little less dumb and a little less oblivious to our stupidity.
Those ways include:
Lean on Other People
In the posting on Inc.com, Jessica Stillman says themost essential lesson of Dunning's work isn't that other people are bad at judging their own competence; it's that we're all terrible at our assessing our skills. “The Dunning-Kruger effect "is a phenomenon that visits all of us sooner or later,” observed Dunning. “Some of us are a little more flamboyant about it. Some of us aren't. But not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition.”
One way to start correcting for ignorance and stupidity is to lean more on other minds. Groups are less likely to be dumb than individuals, according to Dunning.
"A lot of the issues or problems we get into, we get into because we're doing it all by ourselves. We're relying on ourselves. We're making decisions as our own island," Dunning is quoted as saying. "If we consult, chat, schmooze with other people, often we learn things or get different perspectives that can be quite helpful."
Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario
“Optimism has its place in life but not, apparently, when you're trying to make a truly smart decision. Then gloom and neurosis will serve you better, according to psychology,” wrote Stillman.
Added Dunning, "Ask yourself where you could be wrong if the decision is an important one. Or how can your plans end up in disaster? Think that through -- it matters.”
Think in Probabilities, Not Certainties
“Want to get better at predicting the future and therefore making better decisions today?” asked Stillman. “Give up on black-and-white, yes-and-no style thinking, and instead try to think in terms of probabilities. Not, 'Will X or Y occur?' But, 'What is the chance of X or Y occurring -- 10, 50, 80 percent?'”
Dunning cited work done by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Philip Tetlock that has found "people who think not in terms of certainties but in terms of probabilities tend to do much better in forecasting and anticipating what is going to happen in the world than people who think in certainties."
Know What's a Fact and What's an Opinion
Back in grade school some teacher probably had you do an exercise where you separated fact from opinion, noted Stillman, adding, “These days, according to Dunning, more and more of us are forgetting this essential distinction. If you want to be a little smarter, you need to remind yourself that some questions aren't open for personal interpretation.”
Get Better at Saying 'I Don’t Know’
Looking up these facts is dead simple these days thanks to Google, said Stillman. “The tricky part isn't the research, it's the psychology. Before you go and look for information you first have to admit you don't already know that information. That takes intellectual humility and humans aren't always awesome at humility.”
Dunning admitted, “People seem to be uncomfortable about saying, 'I don't know.' That's one thing we've never been able to get people to do.”