Ego and humility – when incompetent people think they are amazing!

Yes, I’m probably the best artist that I know of!” From the movie ‘Napoleon Dynamite’, Source: StiffOlive

I don’t think I ever thought I was amazing at anything.  I’ve always looked upon myself as a jack of many things but a master of none.

I received a University scholarship when I left school and studied architecture for six years, but I was never that good at it, and it wasn’t until that final year that I realised I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life behind a desk, doing something I didn’t particularly like.

But the architecture course was more than how to design a building. It was a design orientated course that included photography, drawing, landscaping, interior design, town planning, and all aspects of general color and design theory.

From when I could lift a hammer I was always tinkering with wood (see BERT AND MARTHA Post) so when I said goodbye to university;

  • I could design a building and probably get it through council, but it probably would not win any awards
  • I could build many things from wood, but probably not as good as a cabinetmaker
  • I could use a camera but not a good as a professional photographer.
  • I could write OK, but not so that I would be game to write a book.
  • I knew the principles of good design but lacked the experience to be a ‘good’ designer.
  • I think I was also OK relating to people but loathed the thought of public speaking.

Thus, a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Not that this worried me, I could do any number of things most people could not. It’s just I was an expert in none. But I am so grateful for that architecture course; it provided me with life-long skills.

I went on to work at an alternative newspaper, as joint editor and layout artist, and also did the occasional feature interview plus some photography when we couldn’t find the photographer.

I could do any number of things most people could not. It’s just I was an expert in none.”

So, all that is background for this post;  The Dunning-Kruger effect. What is that? I hadn’t heard of this until recently, but when I did hear someone talking about in on a radio show I could not help smiling to myself! I’ve since found out that a lot of people have heard of it.

(This next section taken from “What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect”:
“The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities.

The term lends a scientific name and explanation to a problem that many people immediately recognize that fools are blind to their own foolishness. As Charles Darwin wrote in his book The Descent of Man, ‘Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.’”

Basically, it’s when incompetent people think they are amazing!  Many variations of this Dunning-Kruger graph appear on the internet:


Notice how 100% confidence only occurs on ‘Mt. Stupid’ (or Mt. Dunning-Kruger!); those with knowledge and experience are more cautious. The Dunning-Kruger effect afflicts many who have little experience but are super confident.  Even when they compare their effort to a professional they think theirs is just as good, or even better, whereas the more one gains experience in a subject, they realize how little they know about it!

Someone who has great self-confidence, and little or no ability, can be dangerous to be around because their self-confidence often lands them in a position of authority. This means they may be the ultimate decision maker on a particular project or scheme. As leader they can make the final decision. It is frustrating being around people such as this because they will not listen to reason because they “just know” they are right.

Someone who has great self-confidence, and little or no ability, can be dangerous to be around because their self-confidence often lands them in a position of authority.”

I’m reminded of a comment by Sir Richard Branson, the founder and chairman of Virgin Group and one of the richest people around, who said “Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, empower them, and your business will thrive”.

Where am I going with this?  Well I want to relate this to a Vedic verse, which talks about the importance of humility.

“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” Sri Siksastakam 3.

Humility is such a desirable characteristic.  The more humble a person is, the less chance of a Dunning -Kruger character.

The Dunning-Kruger effect – we should all be aware and take care!

Thank-you and Namaste!


12 thoughts on “The DUNNING-KRUGER effect

  1. Great post. Humility is a rare thing indeed. Hopefully it might begin to come naturally as we blunder on thru’ life. I was reminded of an online search I once undertook for tried and true tips for growing rockmelons. Tho’ from a long line of backyard peasant growers, rockmelons had always eluded my best efforts so I was pleased to find a Youtube video that stepped thru sure fire, in-house tricks for producing rockmelons. But at the end, the ‘expert’ announced, ” I’ve never grown rockmelons before so I’m looking forward to harvest time.” What!? I’d been Dunning-Krugered! It seems to be rife and aptly dubbed by some truly smart person ‘the rise of the amateur’.

    1. Thanks Sharon, yes I believe the internet must be a Dunning-Kruger persons dream. Love your ‘Dunning-Krugered’ use. With my friends we’ve shortened it to ‘DKed’. That’s also a good shorthand when we come across someone afflicted, a friend and I can look at one another and just say “DK”, and move on. Thanks for commenting. Regards Charles.

  2. Dear Chaitanya das,
    I have to laugh because this is so prevalent tho I never knew the official name ! And I am certainly guilty myself. Thank you for friendship & honesty….and great inspiration to use what we have to please the Lord rather than to enrich some false idea how wonderful we are. I am grateful. Namaste

    1. Namaste my dearest friend Siva dasi. Nice to know you are still following my posts, I value your friendship very highly. I recently heard you had some health problems, I hope they are not causing you too much trouble. I hope we can catch up in the new year.

  3. Hi, I cannot say I know anyone with this. I find I am good at just about everything, although sometimes people don’t appreciate that. If you like I could probably give you some pointers on how to make you site a lot better, I’m not a professional so you wouldn’t need to pay me.

  4. Hi Don, has anyone ever mentioned your name sounds like a beach in France from where the English soldiers were evacuated from in WWII? Thanks for your offer btw, I’ll keep it in mind. All the best, Charles

  5. Namaste Chaitanya das!
    Thank you for this post. Never knew this “syndrome” had a name! It’s funny, but true. How often we meet people who are newbies in different departments, but start acting over-confidently. What came to my mind is that this becomes much more dangerous when transposed to spiritual life. A person with great self-confidence may end up being charismatic, but if they have little experience and no spiritual vision, they will can start misleading innocent people. Humility is truly the quality that comes with this experience – there is still so much I don’t know and cannot imagine of.
    Best wishes from Poland! Have a great day 🙂

    1. Namaste Satya. Nice to know someone in Poland reads my blog! Yes, you’re observation is what I was alluding to. Thanks for commenting.

  6. We call it “ignorant arrogance” or “arrogant ignorance” here in Texas, seems to be a raging epidemic.

  7. Hi
    stumblwd across your site via your Richter guitar post. very interesting. i am an Aussie Uke collector and was chasing a Richter uke.
    re the Dunning Kruger effect i think the biggest example of this is our current Prime Minister Scott Morrison and also ex President of USA Donald Trump. They certainly generate a lot of media spin over constant, daily inane comments where i smack my forehead in amazement.
    Anyway keep well. Love your post

    1. Hi Michael, Thanks for your comment. Yes we can see examples of people prone to this effect everywhere! Good luck on the Richter uke hunt. Charles

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