How Not to be an Arrogant Fool

There is a famous TV interview with Jimi Hendrix, soon after his jaw-dropping Woodstock performance, in which the interviewer, Dick Cavett, says "You're considered one of the best guitarists in the world". Hendrix shakes his head, looks down at his fingertips in embarrassment and mutters "How about one of the best sitting in this chair". It is a moment of genuine humility.

Why do highly competent people often think they're not as good as others think they are? A phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect (after the two psychologists who researched the effect) explains this and describes two tendencies you may have observed in others.

Firstly, highly competent, knowledgeable people often underestimate their ability, believing others are at least as competent as them. This probably explains why top performers in all fields of life continually strive to do better, refusing to become complacent. It's as if they genuinely believe there is so much further they need to go. Indeed, some of the CEO's we work with, whose companies are clearly market leaders, regularly implore their teams to continually look for ways to improve their performance. Jim Collins, (who wrote the book Good to Great), calls this Productive Paranoia.

The second tendency described by the Dunning-Kruger Effect, would be funny if it wasn't so disquieting. It is how people who are clearly incompetent, often rate themselves and their opinions unrealistically high, failing to see how inadequate their ideas or performance really are. Whether it's how they conduct meetings, interact with others or run their business, the problem here is their access to a little knowledge has deluded them into thinking they are simply amazing. Ironically it is their lack of knowledge or self awareness that makes it hard for them to realise they don't know what they don't know! A graphical representation of these tendencies is shown below. The novice is often deluded while the expert is humble.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

In franchise groups, marketing discussions are a great example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. As we all know, everyone is a marketing expert and can tell you emphatically (based on discussions with their mates) what the marketing department should be doing to boost sales. Requests for evidence might be met with the rolling of eyes because "it's plain obvious!"

The good news is, Dunning and Kruger also discovered that when 'deluded experts' receive some training in the relevant area, they usually quickly gain a more accurate perspective on their lack of knowledge. In other words they move from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence, which is also the state in which people become more open to learning.

Franchisor executives might find this useful to remember when working with franchisees who have become complacent or who are just driving them nuts with unsubstantiated claims. There's nothing like feedback using financial benchmarks or objective marketing data to gently enlighten those who are blinded by ignorance.

By the way, if you are a franchisor executive, and think your brilliant ideas are beyond reproach because you're such a genius, you might also consider the following insights from three people I think we would all agree were true experts in their fields.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.

Remember, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

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