The Dunning-Kruger Effect… OR why bad wrappers think they are good.

Of course the same headline could apply to a designer, your staff salesperson or your shop’s competition accross town. We all have experienced this completely sureal situation which is both plainly obvious to us but, for some bizarre reason, is completely unseen from the indidviual who is convinced they have everything on lock.

Frank is a wrapper at a standard graphics company. One of the great, local small businesses that serve their community every day. Frank, at best, is an average performer; his wraps are constantly riddled with wrinkles, popped air pockets and poor registrations. Frank’s trim work is crooked with a dash of wavy edges, overstretched surfaces, inconsistent seams, corners are a mess and mismatched overlaps… so, not so good.

Frank’s wrapping skills; unfortunately, are not his worse attribute. His manager his constantly annoyed and frustrated by the fact the Frank is absolutely convinved that he is a great wrapper. He has even gone so far as to argue that he is one of the best wrappers in the city if not the country. In Frank’s mind all other’s efforts pale in comparison to his skills and competence.

We have all, at some time in our life, been exposed to someone who’s performance is just plain awful but they are somehow convinced they are putting out stellar results. Most likely what you have seen in action is the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

In an excerpt from a Forbes article, the Dunning-Kruger Effect was “Coined in 1999 by then-Cornell psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the eponymous Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias whereby people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence. And not only do they fail to recognize their incompetence, they’re also likely to feel confident that they actually are competent.”

From our point of view, Franks’s wrapping skills need a lot of improvement. If Frank saw his deficiencies, he would be able to fix them, he wouldn’t fight constructive criticism of his wrapping, and, frankly, he wouldn’t be so frustrating to deal with.

Unfortunately, according to the Forbes article “we know from the more than 10,000 people who’ve taken the online quiz “How Do You React To Constructive Criticism?” that only 39% of employees handle constructive criticism by systematically dissecting every step leading up to the thing they just got criticized for. They don’t freak out or fight the feedback, instead, they want to understand and correct the underlying issues. Now, it’s not guaranteed that the other 61% are ensconced in Dunning-Kruger, but it’s worth being concerned that they may receive feedback similarly to Frank.

The irony of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is that, Professor Dunning notes, “the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task—and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task.”

The 1999 paper that launched the Dunning-Kruger Effect was called “Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” Across 4 studies, Professor Dunning and his team administered tests of humor, grammar, and logic. And they found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. For example, in one of the studies, Cornell undergrads took a 20-item grammar test. After completing the test, the students estimated how their ability to “identify grammatically correct standard English” compared with others. And as you might expect, the lowest scoring students grossly overestimated their abilities. Those who scored at the 10th percentile (i.e. they scored higher than only 10% of others) rated their grammar abilities at the 67th percentile. In essence, their actual grammar ability was really poor, but they thought they were in the top third of people.

And it’s not just college kids; you can find examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect everywhere. One study of high-tech firms discovered that 32-42% of software engineers rated their skills as being in the top 5% of their companies. A nationwide survey found that 21% of Americans believe that it’s ‘very likely’ or ‘fairly likely’ that they’ll become millionaires within the next 10 years. Drivers consistently rate themselves above average. Medical technicians overestimate their knowledge in real-world lab procedures. In a classic study of faculty at the University of Nebraska, 68% rated themselves in the top 25% for teaching ability, and more than 90% rated themselves above average (which I’m sure you’ll notice is mathematically impossible).”

So, what do you do when faced with a “Frank”?

If the offender is another shop then you just have to shrug and walk away. Nothing you say would be accepted and any disruption of the mental bubble will immediately be construed as an “attack” by all the “haters”… literally a zero win scenario.

If “Frank” is in your own organization then you are going to have to start carefully exploring your options depending on your own willingness to work with the individual. Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope and you can get them enagaged in some fun in-shop competitions, do some personal one-on-one technique training or have them regularly sit down and watch some of Justin Pate / The Wrap Institute videos.

Of course there is also the final path and you can walk Frank to the door. Good shops have to be good teams and an unchanging attitude like Frank’s is a guaranteed way to failure.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” – Confucius

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” – Albert Einstein