Have you ever met someone who thinks that they are amazing at something, but does not realise that in fact they are below average?
This could be the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias whereby people who are incompetent in an area don’t understand what high performance looks like in that field, and so cannot tell they are incompetent.
The effect was first described by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger in their 1999 paper Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.
In a series of several studies, people who scored far below average (in the 12th Percentile) thought that they had in fact scored very well (in the 62nd Percentile).
Other examples are that up to 93% of people think that their ability to drive is “above average”, whereas the most this could ever be is 50% (by the definition of average).
In a follow-up paper, David Dunning describes the issue that low-performers face:
[The effect] arises because lack of expertise and knowledge often hides in the realm of the “unknown unknowns” or is disguised by erroneous beliefs and background knowledge that only appear to be sufficient to conclude a right answer.
As empirical evidence of meta-ignorance, I describe the Dunning–Kruger effect, in which poor performers in many social and intellectual domains seem largely unaware of just how deficient their expertise is.
Their deficits leave them with a double burden—not only does their incomplete and misguided knowledge lead them to make mistakes but those exact same deficits also prevent them from recognizing when they are making mistakes and other people choosing more wisely.
Essentially, people who do not know much about a domain can suffer from “unknown unknowns”. They do not know enough about the challenge to identify the right way to think about finding the right answer.
Similarly, people who know a bit more about a subject may become aware of just how much they don’t know (the known unknowns), making them a bit more humble when evaluating their own ability.
So what impact does this have on innovation and creativity?
It goes hand in hand with developing your skills and hitting your first set of hurdles.
As you go from beginner to intermediate, the knowledge you gain about everything that is out there in the field can get overwhelming. It may even feel like you are getting further away from your goals than you were initially, since you see so much more ahead of you.
This is where it helps to know that it is a natural sequence your brain might be going through.
Don’t feel overwhelmed, and just keep on working with deliberate practice.
The worst thing to do would be to stay stationary, forever thinking you were amazing because you didn’t know just how far behind the high performers you really are.
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