Archive for August, 2015

One of my favorite things in the whole wide world is listening to uninformed people talk about themselves.
(I also enjoy gas station cigars, binge-watching reality TV, and sorting rusty razor blades with my butt cheeks.)
So I lied – I don’t really want to listen to uninformed people talk about anything. But why? After all, it can be kinda fun watching someone first put one foot into his/her mouth, then the other, and then wind up swallowing them so deeply that they come out the other side. It’s like the wreck by the side of the highway – you just have to check it out. But it’s not for me.
So I’ll ask again, why not? I think it’s because the whole idea of someone spouting nonsense seems so embarrassing, so self-defeating, and so damned unproductive that I can’t imagine why it would ever happen. But it does – we’ve all seen it.

Help me work through a couple of ideas….

Could it be that these people just like to hear themselves talk? Nope – if that were true they could lock themselves in a room alone, sparing the rest of us from their autonomous aural assault.
Do you think this group just has some delusional fantasy of their own brilliance? Maybe they think they know everything about everything, and their life’s work is to be sure everyone knows they are always right?
Hhhhmmmm – I think we’re getting warmer.
Or perhaps this crew holds their own opinions in such high regard that other opinions are inconsequential and can be interrupted, dismissed, and belittled? Hhhhmmmm indeed.

There’s so much wrong with this whole thing that I just KNOW there must be a medical explanation. And there is. Metacognition is the process by which humanoids evaluate and regulate their own expertise, and it has been studied quite a bit because, well, for the lab-coated pointy heads, it’s a fun time, like the wreck on the highway. It’s fun because we are surprisingly bad at metacognition – a phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Simply put, people that suck don’t realize they suck. On the contrary, they actually believe they’re quite talented. You can see how this combination might create pure comedic poetry in motion. As an example, I offer you patient zero of the Dunning-Kruger effect, McArthur Wheeler.
Back in 1995, Mr. Wheeler decided that robbing banks was a good idea. He had a foolproof plan – he would smear his face with lemon juice before entering the banks. Because lemon juice can be used as invisible ink (which can be seen only after exposure to heat), his face would not be visible to the security cameras. Of course he was caught within hours, but the craziest part was that he was quite stunned his nutball plan didn’t work!

Funny story Brian, but what’s this have to do with uninformed people wasting my time?

There’s an interesting wrinkle to the Dunning-Kruger effect. While those afflicted with DK are spectacularly ignorant of their own shortcomings, those people actually possessing intellect and judgement tend to downplay their relative superiority. So the DKs (“don’t know-it-alls”) boast while intelligent people hold back.

Are there any lessons here for business? Why, yes there are.

• Be suspicious of the loudest person in the room, especially if you’ve never met.
Anyone who feels the need to broadcast without a microphone is displaying poor judgement, a clear sign that they overestimate their own importance and skills. Would you want to deal with this person on either side of the negotiating table?
• If you hear someone regaling a group with tales of their business acumen and you recognize errors or half-truths in their statements, make a mental note.
This person is not competent. First, because he/she is presenting erroneous statements as fact, and second, because if you recognize boasts and lies others will too. Would you do business with this person? No, and you wouldn’t be the only one steering clear.
• Consider the damage that person is causing, and has likely caused in the past.
In business one must have credibility, but someone who boasts, presents facts that are suspect, and has to always be the smartest person in the room won’t have any. Credibility, like respect, is easy to lose and tough to get back.
• Don’t forget – you are judged by the company you keep.
If you are seen associating with people displaying these characteristics, you will be tarred with the same brush.
• But, be interested in the quietest people in the room – they probably have the most to offer.

Research shows that smart, savvy people generally do not misrepresent or inflate themselves, their skills or accomplishments. So you can believe what they say and what they promise.
Here’s an analogy for what I’m seeing. People who are actually intelligent, competent and productive don’t have to beat you with their hammer of credentials – the credentials speak for themselves. They do more listening than talking, become more adept at everything they touch, and are sought out by others (whom they listen to and learn from). Rinse and repeat – these folks are living.

Those who believe they already know everything there is to know feel the need to tell the world. Over and over. They boast of their accomplishments to whoever is within earshot, and also to those who aren’t. They talk too much, make things up, and rarely listen so they don’t learn and ultimately, they push people away. Whatever skills used to exist wither and die.
When you are going under you don’t care who grabs your hand. Neither do the DKs – they are drowning socially and professionally. No amount of boasting and bleating will save them. Just stand back and don’t get wet.