If you’ve ever wondered why new hires or young whippersnappers approach the world as if they know everything, it could be because of the Dunning-Kruger effect. This theory plots confidence vs. experience and knowledge and the resulting graph resembles a roller coaster.

In the beginning, people are low on experience but very high on confidence (they don’t know enough to be otherwise) but soon they peak and plummet, losing confidence as they gain knowledge and realize that there is more depth than they first understood. Despair follows, when confidence is at its lowest, but rather than hitting bottom, the curve returns upward as confidence returns as knowledge increases. Ultimately, there is a measure of both confidence and experience that results in an expert knowing the complexity of a subject, but being secure in her mastery of it.

Those who are unaware of Dunning-Kruger enter a new arena with a false sense of bravado. Novice political candidates are often in this realm where they boast about making sweeping changes without understanding the difficulty and complexity of actually governing. Incumbents, on the other hand, may hedge their answers in realism as their confidence wanes based on the challenges they have experienced in their earlier terms or their understanding of the depth of the issues. It’s the difference between being a good candidate and a strong public servant – they aren’t the same.

If we are to elevate new voices, it pays for everyone to be cognizant of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Those who come into interviews or volunteer for projects may project high confidence, but it could merely be a reflection of their oblivion to the true complexity of the task. You may do better to bet on someone further along on the curve who acknowledges there are things they don’t know and isn’t blinded by their own cognitive bias about their skills.

u/ GroundbreakingBlood7


About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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