The Risks Of The Dunning-Kruger Effect!

If you have never heard of this before you are probably wondering what I am referring to. Read on and let me know if you have spotted this in the past!


In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence.

As described by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the cognitive bias of illusory superiority results from an internal illusion in people of low ability and from an external misperception in people of high ability; that is, “the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.

In 2011 David Dunning wrote about his observations that people with substantial, measurable deficits in their knowledge or expertise lack the ability to recognize those deficits and therefore, despite potentially making error after error, tend to think they are performing competently when they are not: “In short, those who are incompetent, for lack of a better term, should have little insight into their incompetence—an assertion that has come to be known as the Dunning–Kruger effect”.

Can you relate?

I think we can all be affected by this at some point or another. As an example take the A-Level Student who aced their exams and received top marks. They feel like a guru strutting about proud of that mark and how it shows how much they know in respect of this topic. They embark on a degree and straight away they realise the A-Level was just a small taste and there is so much more to the subject than they first thought. They panic and wonder if they actually know anything useful about the topic and all confidence fades!

I remember when I first started to learn how to drive. I wanted my license before I even stepped foot in an instructors car. I was eager to have this sense of freedom and after a few lessons, I felt like I had earned it. When I received that certificate it was the best news and I felt like I could conquer the world. Fast Forward 3 hours later… the first time being alone in the car I scraped a neighbour’s car trying to reverse out of a tight parking spot! Panic hit me and I realised I had never practiced parking in bays before, then it all started to hit me! I had never driven on my own before, never driven through rush hour in a city centre, I hadn’t even driven through a city centre and I had never driven on a motorway! I lost all confidence and froze feeling unable to manoeuvre the car out of the parking space! Luckily the neighbour was understanding and there wasn’t any damage, but I had still gone from hero to zero in just a few hours!

What should we do?

Well, this is quite simple. We just need to ensure we are always checking our knowledge and understanding and being prepared to upskill and learn more where required. We should always be assessing if our knowledge is still accurate and up to date. Have things changed with the time and do we need to learn more?

If you are a Manager

You need to continually assess your teams’ capabilities and skill set. As we know from the Dunning-Kruger Effect poor performers are not in a position to recognize the shortcomings in their performance and we, therefore, cannot leave it completely to individuals to manage their own personal development.

Some questions to ask are:

Do we have a skills matrix and are we aware of everyone’s full capabilities?

How do you know? What did you use for assessment?

Have things changed and did we circulate a memo/email rather than provide training?

Do some team members outperform their colleagues, if so why is this?

Do all employees have clear objectives and targets?

What is used to check the teams understanding of their objectives and targets?

What is used to monitor and evaluate the team’s objectives and targets?


As we now know an individual may feel they know everything about the role and are performing well when in reality they are underperforming! It is, therefore, the Managers responsibility to ensure their team are capable and are receiving the correct support and development opportunities.

This can easily be carried out as part of regular Performance Review Meetings and Assessments. Performance Reviews are a great opportunity for both the individual and their manager to raise any development needs and opportunities and also assess how the individual is feeling.

I don’t believe that anyone ever wants to do a bad job however sometimes they may fall into this bracket without the right support and assistance.

There are lots of solutions to address underperformance at work but first, you have to know what the cause is.

Contact us at Optimal PBS to see how we can work with you to ensure your teams are working effectively and efficiently. We can undertake a full review of your current performance management processes or create you one from scratch. We can also work with your managers to ensure they know how to spot the signs of poor performance and equip them with the knowledge and tools to tackle this when required.

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