Ignorance Begets Confidence

Ignorance, it seems, is not merely bliss, but it also makes you more confident. The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes research in diverse fields that found less competent people often grossly overestimated their own abilities. Thanks to Dave Snowden for picking this up.

2 Comments so far

Hi Patrick,

Is this an evolutionary trait perhaps, as waiting for competence to come probably means it will never arrive.

“Trust your hopes, not your fears” David Mahoney

Are humans good at learning simply because of the rewards we perceive for putting ourselves in the awkward position of uncertainty and doubt that accompany it? Have we implicitly agreed with this by creating the safety nets of schools, and pilot schemes in our cultures - which allow us to fail without jeopardizing our survival? Are good learners really just more comfortable with the churning, queasy feeling we get when confronted by these changes?

Guy Claxtons’ book “Wise Up”, suggests this resilience is a foundation skill for life-long learning. We all need to walk the journey ourselves even if the path is shown to us, and if we diverge off that beaten path, then isn’t that opening us up to the vista of innovation?

Doesn’t the Cynefin model argue for injecting chaos? Isn’t it paradoxically the riskier stategy to opt for safety in a complex environment?

As a designer, it is sometimes an advantage to be ignorant - it allows you to question the assumptions and implicit values of the competents. Just speaking in defence of my incompetence.

Posted on July 30, 2007 at 01:38 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

To a degree I think we are programmed to learn for ourselves, as you suggest-the rebellious teenager insists on learning for themselves even though parents and adults who kow better issue dire warnings… best summed up in the Joss Stone song “Right to be Wrong”

I’ve got a right to be wrong
My mistakes will make me strong
I’m stepping out into the great unknown
I’m feeling wings though I’ve never flown
i`ve got a mind of my own
I’m flesh and blood to the bone
I’m not made of stone
Got a right to be wrong
So just leave me alone

And as adults, we sometimes insist on the same privilege… and in certain kinds of work, ignorance can be extremely useful, as you suggest as well.

Not sure about the value of being unaware of the extent of your ignorance though… unless it’s simply to moderate fear.

Posted on July 30, 2007 at 01:51 PM | Comment permalink

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