You may be incompetent
August 29, 2002 6:38 PM   Subscribe

You may be incompetent and not even know it. According to Dr. David Dunning of Cornell University, the skills necessary to be competent are the same skills needed to recognize competence in others. You can read the whole report here.
posted by Joey Michaels (24 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"In 1995, McArthur Wheeler walked into two Pittsburgh banks and robbed them in broad daylight, with no visible attempt at disguise. He was arrested later that night, less than an hour after videotapes of him taken from surveillance cameras were broadcast on the 11 o'clock news. When police later showed him the surveillance tapes, Mr. Wheeler stared in incredulity. "But I wore the juice," he mumbled. Apparently, Mr. Wheeler was under the impression that rubbing one's face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to videotape cameras "

You like-a da juice, yeah? Juice is good, ah?

posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:43 PM on August 29, 2002

This isn't exactly a surprise, no? Thinking back over the bosses I've had, I can't think of that many incompetent ones that recognized their incompetence...

When does someone EVER want to assert that they're clueless and/or ineffectual?
posted by Vidiot at 6:46 PM on August 29, 2002

I think this statement is more eye-opening:

"It thus appears that extremely competent individuals suffer a burden as well. Although they perform competently, they fail to realize that their proficiency is not necessarily shared by their peers."

It agrees with my personal observation that the "smarter" person doesn't always make the best teacher, because the teacher will often give up in frustration when the student fails to grasp what, to the teacher, is a simple concept. How many times have you seen an adult trying to show a child how to do something, then lose patience when the child doesn't immediately catch on?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:52 PM on August 29, 2002

That's why I could never be any sort of teacher... I simply lose patience very quickly, whether it be trying to teach my computer the basics of using Windows or trying to teach my nephew how to draw...


Do I have a problem?
posted by spidre at 7:02 PM on August 29, 2002

i wonder if there is a corollary that states that an incompetent will see competence in other incompetents?

That would cement my belief that this explains middle management even further.

Did anyone else find it interesting that one of the aspects that they were testing was sense of humor?
posted by quin at 7:19 PM on August 29, 2002

Interesting read... but are they really competent to make such assertions?
posted by John Smallberries at 7:44 PM on August 29, 2002

I'm getting mixed up between this and the schizophrenia thread that follows (precedes?) it. Not that I'm incompetent or anything. Er, yeah I am. Because that means I'm really competent. No I'm not.

I'm just thinking about the ramifications of this study on relationships. People are usually attracted to people who they perceive as competent. If you can't get a date, does that mean you're ultra-competent, because nobody can recognize actual competence, not even competent people?

Or maybe it's more likely to be that whole schizophrenia thing.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:18 PM on August 29, 2002

The world is too complicated - Everyone is rendered an incompetent idiot. Except me.
posted by ac at 8:22 PM on August 29, 2002

If anyone is qualified to make an assertion on how incompetent I am, it's me. I think.
posted by paradigm at 8:38 PM on August 29, 2002

Is this the wizenheimer uncertainity principle?
posted by HTuttle at 9:04 PM on August 29, 2002

Did anyone else find it interesting that one of the aspects that they were testing was sense of humor?

I did quin. I wonder where can you take the "humor test" he mentioned?
posted by poodlemouthe at 10:03 PM on August 29, 2002


1. Everyone thinks that they are competent.

2. The more incompetent you are, the greater the delusion you must maintain (see 1) about your skills and, consequently, the skills of others.
posted by vacapinta at 10:38 PM on August 29, 2002

The section that describes the humor test in the full report is interesting. They've granted that humor is subjective, but they've also found a rather interesting way of "measuring" sense of humor. It is worth a quick read if you are interested in that sort of thing.

For myself, I think it is worthwhile to ask every couple of months "am I competent? How would I know?" For my own part (as a theater person), I periodically watch "Waiting for Guffman" and ask myself "have I turned into Corky St. Clair yet?" When the answer is anywhere near "yes," I make sure to be act much, much humbler...

One of my colleagues has suggested that one way to ward off incompetence is to try and be a "life long learner." Educational buzzword aside, this seems like a reasonable solution. If you always acknowledge you have more to learn and try to learn it, you may loosen the grip of incompetence.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:03 PM on August 29, 2002

"This article may contain faulty logic, methodological errors or poor communication," they cautioned in their journal report. "Let us assure our readers that to the extent this article is imperfect, it is not a sin we have committed knowingly."

Thereby proving either a) they have not overestimated their competence, and thus must be competent or b) they have a firm grasp of ironic humor, and thus must be competent.

Of course, I could be wrong.
posted by taz at 11:46 PM on August 29, 2002

This is one of my favorite articles. Though it was linked many moons ago, it didn't really get discussed. I actually have it bookmarked as "that article I'm always trying to find." Someday, I'll answer an email with it.
posted by frykitty at 2:36 AM on August 30, 2002

Bertrand Russell knew that already.
posted by tyro urge at 3:19 AM on August 30, 2002

Rats. I searched high and low for this link on Metafilter before posting. At least the title link wasn't posted before... I think. Anyhow, sorry for the double link.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:18 AM on August 30, 2002

Joey, I am really interested in this study, and despite the fact that I've been a pretty obsessive reader of Mefi, I managed to miss the earlier thread. I'm really happy that you put it up.
posted by taz at 5:05 AM on August 30, 2002


This goes so far in explaining corporate management. Seriously -- no kidding. Reference also:
Parkinson's Law (!)
The Peter Principle
I can't recommend them enough!
I noticed this article when it first came out in 2000, but I lost track of it.
posted by Shane at 5:46 AM on August 30, 2002

There's a line in the Janeane Garofalo movie The MatchMaker that chilled me to the bone. Paraphrasing: She says, "Is being stupid like being high all the time?"

The guy says, "No, it's like being right all the time."

That I knew how to spell "Janeane Garofalo" when doing that IMDB search gave me some confidence. Also, I did remember this article being linked some time ago. often as I run into complete morons, I have to wonder if it's my own fault. Maybe the schizophrenia article will provide more clues.
posted by son_of_minya at 6:00 AM on August 30, 2002

Even if you're just of average intelligence, you're still smarter than half the people around you.

(Given the layman's definition of average, not a statistician's.)
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:42 AM on August 30, 2002

Rats. I searched high and low for this link on Metafilter before posting.

Don't sweat it--it was a long time ago, and there's only one comment in that other thread. I only searched harder because I remembered it.

'Tis a good thread, and well posted.
posted by frykitty at 8:29 AM on August 30, 2002

My father used to say that I was just smart enough to know how stupid I was.
posted by planetkyoto at 8:37 AM on August 30, 2002

My father used to say that I was just smart enough to know how stupid I was.

Your Dad was a wizard at building your self confidence, eh? ;)
posted by ruggles at 9:51 AM on August 30, 2002

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