Why bad appointments think they’re much better than they are
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Oudtshoorn. 4 August 2012. 18h15. Browsing through an American military website last week, I came across an article, Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It, which resurrected a long suspected belief that heretofore could not be proven. Further reading of the actual research paper upon which the article was based, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments, began to bring home the possibility that our South African problems with Cadre Deployment were now scientifically explicable.
More than ten years of research at Cornell and now at New York Universities show that incompetent people are not only incapable of doing their jobs, but are also incapable of recognising their incompetence.
David Dunning and Justin Kruger, psychologists at Cornell University, have demonstrated that humans find it “intrinsically difficult to get a sense of what we don’t know.” Whether an individual lacks competence in logical reasoning, emotional intelligence, humour or even chess abilities, the person still tends to rate his or her skills in that area as being above average.”
Dunning and his colleague, Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now at New York University say “We have done a number of studies where we will give people a test of some area of knowledge like logical reasoning, knowledge about STDs and how to avoid them, emotional intelligence, etcetera. Then we determine their scores, and basically just ask them how well they think they’ve done,” Dunning said. “We ask, ‘what percentile will your performance fall in?'”
The results are uniform across all the knowledge domains: People who actually did well in the test feel more confident about their performance than those who didn’t do well – but only by a small amount.
Almost all of the people tested felt that they had performed better than average.
For those at the bottom of the results. Those who did really badly and were in the bottom ten or fifteen percentile, believed that their results fell within the sixtieth of fifty-fifth percentile.
In other words, no matter how badly their actual test results were, these people rated themselves as Above Average.
This goes a long way in explaining how our Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga could say of herself, “I’m actually doing really well at my job, all things considered” This even though her department had not delivered schoolbooks to pupils more than half way through the school year.
The same pattern emerges when testing for the ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar or even their own performance in a chess game. Says Dunning, “People at the bottom of the test results still insist that they outperform others.”
This disparity between actual results obtained in tests and subjects opinion of their scores is not due to mere optimism, but rather their total lack of expertise renders them unable to see their own deficiencies.
Even when test administrators offered test participants substantial monetary rewards to rate themselves accurately, they could not. “They were really trying to be honest and impartial” said the examiner.
It follows that, people who are not talented in a given area, tend not to be able to recognise talents or good ideas in others. This can impede democracy in that the democratic process relies on voters having the capacity to identify and support the best candidate or policy.
Moreover, it also can impede the performance of officials in that they feel they are doing a fine job when they are not, and , furthermore, their superiors are equally incapable of establishing whether a good job is being done overall, because they suffer from the same delusions.
This is as an exploration into why people tend to hold overly optimistic and miscalibrated views about themselves.
We propose that those with limited knowledge in a domain suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach mistaken conclusions and make regrettable errors, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.*
This has disastrous consequences for a country on both sides of the ballot box, where citizens do not have the capacity to choose the best candidate, and when an incompetent official is appointed , that person has no idea that they themselves are in fact incapable of doing the job. The downward spiral of competencies is apparent for everyone to see but is impossible to halt. To compound the problem, those future voters, whose educations are destroyed by the Unconscious Incompetents running their education, are, in their turn, even less competent to rule and administer when it becomes their time to be deployed.
This self-deception, enables entirely destructive rulers to asses themselves so favourably, that they insist on ruling for life. It also allows citizens who are incapable of accurate judgement to live with a lifetime of diminishing standards and tangibles.
The obvious, but big question is: Does the ANC know of this phenomenon, and, if they do, are they exploiting it to maintain their majority in spite of their failure to deliver meaningful improvements to the citizens of the country?
If the ANC are oblivious to this universal human idiosyncrasy, are they relying on the ethnic vote to recall them to government time after time? Or are they secure in the belief that an incompetent and incapable electorate will always vote for the party which promises the most, regardless of how little they deliver?
If these questions can be answered, it would perhaps change how opposition parties could influence their standings at the polls. He who lies the most, gets the vote?
Or, how does one try to become the choice of the poorly informed and incompetent voter?
If the phenomenon is operating entirely without manipulation and malice of forethought in South Africa, it may be that knowing about it is a reminder to politicians that you are not as great as you think you are, and you may not be right about those things you believe you are right about. And if you attempt to laughingly dismiss claims of your incompetence, you may not be as funny as you think you are.
Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self- Assessments Justin Kruger and David Dunning Cornell University Journal of Personality and Social Psychology1999, Vol. 77, No. 6. ] 121-1134
Natalie Wolchover, Life’s Little Mysteries Staff Writer Date: 27 February 2012
Mike McWilliams is author of the book The Battle for Cassinga. Also published on Politicsweb, his article first appeared on Moneyweb.