Hey friends,

After 3 weeks of Personal Statement Content, I thought that we should go back to some classic life advice/productivity content. And in this issue, I’ll get into the nuts and bolts of the Dunning-Kruger effect - one of the many concepts about the human brain that never fails to amuse me.

Experience

This weekend, my college’s football team, KYFA, participated in an Alumni Match at Radia Arena, Bukit Jelutong As usual, the team’s photographer artfully edited and uploaded a gallery of pictures on their Instagram Feed.

As I was browsing through the pictures (all the while appreciating the photography and editing skills - kudos to the team👏), I recalled how enthusiastic I was about joining KYFA when I entered college.

For context, I picked up football/futsal towards the end of Form 3 (15 years old) and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed weekly futsal games with the boys. In fact, I improved quite a bit over my last 2 years in high school and was even elected the Vice Captain for my school’s football team.

I played a defensive role in the game. As my skills improved, people started nicknaming me “Ramos”, “De Ligt” etc. Those who are slightly more feisty added a potentially racist twist to it by calling me “Great Wall of China”.

And I’m not going to lie, it felt good. Being recognized simply felt good.

College, however, was a completely different playing field. The game was constantly intense and the players were on another level, to say the least. I’m not underselling it when I say that these people absolutely crushed me in almost every attribute that constitutes a player’s competence. (speed, physical, ball control, vision etc)

I joined the team selection nonetheless and it didn’t surprise me that I didn’t make the cut. However, I still think it was a valuable experience as it opened my eyes to what proper competency looked like.

Now that storytime is over, let’s move on to examine how this relates to the Dunning-Kruger effect by first addressing some common questions.

What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which incompetent people are unable to recognize their own competence.

Can you explain that in a more digestible manner?

Sure. Here you go.

"What were the last 3 things that I thought I was a complete pro at, just to realize years later, when I became better at it, that I was far from that".

Congratulations! Those 3 instances were your happy memories at the "Peak of Mount Stupid". Ignorantly confident yet positively dumb.

But don’t worry. It happens to the best of us.

The problem at Mount Stupid is that we’re so poorly informed on a particular matter that we don’t even know what we don’t know. We are completely oblivious to how much there is to learn and hence when we know a small part, we inevitably fall into this illusory superiority that we are more competent than the Average Joe.

That was exactly the case with my sob story about football. I thought I was considered competent because I made rather wide strides within the first couple of years of playing the game (which isn’t hard because everyone makes quick progress at the start). It wasn’t until college when I realized how much I’ve overestimated my competency as a football player.

And this wasn’t an exclusive event. The same thing happened when I started dabbling with code and web design. Once I grasped the basics of coding, I subconsciously internalized my identity as a 'coder'. This effect also took place with the first few junkie-looking websites I designed. I thought that I was a 'legit' website designer🤦‍♂️

It wasn’t until I created my personal website that I realized just how much there was to learn. As I picked up more design tips and referenced other people’s work, I started to fall into the 'Valley of Despair'.

What is the 'Valley of Despair'?

Our friends, David Dunning and Justin Kruger suggested that once we get slightly more competent, we fall from 'Mount Stupid' down the 'Valley of Despair'.

The 'Valley of Despair' is the phase that comes right after we realized how ignorant we were at 'Mount Stupid' and just how far we are from being able to call ourselves remotely competent.

While at 'Mount Stupid', we overestimated our capabilities; down at the 'Valley of Despair', we overcompensate for our previous ignorance and start to underestimate our competency instead.

What about the 'Way to Enlightenment'?

This is the phase where our competency increases almost linearly with our confidence.

As our competency develops, we start to climb out of the 'Valley of Despair' and gain confidence in ourselves. This leads us to be able to accurately and objectively evaluate our competence or incompetence in a particular topic.

Those in this phase tend to be aware of just how knowledgeable they are.

But they often make a different mistake: they assume that everyone else is knowledgeable, too.

How does this affect us?

According to this effect, most people, whether they're inept or highly skilled, are often caught in a bubble of inaccurate self-perception.

When they're unskilled, they can't see their own faults.

When they’re moderately skilled, they lose their confidence.

When they're exceptionally competent, they don't perceive how unusual their abilities are.

So if the Dunning-Kruger effect is invisible to those experiencing it, what can you do to find out how good you actually are at various things?

  1. Ask for feedback from other people, and consider it, even if it's hard to hear.
  2. Keep learning. The more knowledgeable we become, the less likely we are to have invisible holes in our competence.

Perhaps it all boils down to that old proverb:

When arguing with a fool, first make sure the other person isn't doing the same thing.

With that said, I hope that this fun little concept that is I find very amusing and am hence sharing with you today adds value to your life in some shape, way, or form.

Have a great week ahead and see you in the next issue of Sunday Scoop!

Jia Shing.


Links

📹 Video - Here is a short 2-minute video that helps you to understand the Dunning-Kruger effect better.

✏️ Comic Strip - Not really a link but this comic strip I came across when I was researching on the Dunning-Kruger effect left me in stitches.


Question

Has the Dunning-Kruger effect taken place in your life yet? How are you going to accurately and objectively evaluate your competency in the future?


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