That’s how someone I know, with a talent for memorable phrases, once described a colleague. It’s a rather more blunt description of an interesting phenomenon than the one on offer in a research item noted recently by the author of Ask a Manager. The study concludes that people tend to overestimate their own competence.
Perhaps you suspected that, already. But it’s interesting nevertheless, and actually quite pertinent to both sides of our current topic of the relevance of management thinking to practice.
Here’s how I used to describe the equation:
The dumber they are, the smarter they think they are.”
That, of course, is a bit on the blunt side, too. It does seem to have survived testing against experience, though, and it also has the advantage of setting the assertion out unmistakably, with all its aspects in clear definition.
Moreover, it gives rise to a number of corollaries, which are always intriguing. Examining corollaries helps sharpen understanding of all of the main and related ideas, and opens the vista of thinking to a broader application of those ideas.
Now, that sort of language may sound a bit highfalutin when applied to as inelegant an axiom as the one presented above. But I think you will find that a closer consideration of it will generate some questions that are worth asking, questions that challenge common assumptions about how we work, how we think, how we generate and take advice, and how we interact.
The obvious suggestions in the assertion that will serve as our starting point are that dumb people can be difficult to work with, and hard to convince of the errors of their ways. Those points have managerial implications, of course, but the really interesting thing is the underlying presumption that we are able to identify dumb people.
Are you? Of course, many of them really do seem to identify themselves by radiating their imbecility. But are there stealth imbeciles out there, concealing those signals, or disguising them as something else; even as, well, us?
We’ll take a look at that, starting tomorrow, by beginning with the first corollary. See you then!
Here is a list of all the posts in this popular series:
- Radiating Imbecility
- Rays of hope
- Pulsating inconsistency
- Radiating confidence
- Blind faith
- Mirror, mirror . . .
- Socratic genius
- Socratic ignorance
- Socratic method
- First principles
- The Socratic attitude
- Why we do what we do
- Recon by fire
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