Blissful Incompetence

Posted on January 23, 2018 by Robert Ringer


As Barack Hussein Obama, the king of arrogance and incompetence, increasingly rears his Marxist tentacles in what will surely turn out to be an embarrassing effort to prop up Dirty Dems seeking reelection in the 2018 midterms, it’s a reminder of how many people I’ve observed over the years who are inexplicably overconfident in spite of their proven ineptitude.

It’s a phenomenon that is rampant in the dumbed-down, feel-good 21st century Western world, and especially in the world of politics.  In fairness to Barack Obama, his boundless arrogance has been made possible by an adoring media that continues to applaud him in spite of his never-ending failures.

I’m talking about the same media that insists on lauding Obama’s “soaring oratorical skills, notwithstanding the fact that he fumbles and stumbles his way through speeches, interviews, and press conferences to an extreme that causes even a detractor like me to wince in pain as he frantically grasps for words.

In addition, the media has been complicit in helping him believe that he’s “the smartest guy in the room,” never bothering to ask why, among scores of other boneheaded gaffes, he does not know how to pronounce “corpsman” and claims to have visited 57 states.  Not only is he not the smartest guy in the room, a politically incorrect person might go so far as to say he’s a complete fraud.

The question is, how do dufuses like Obama manage to maintain their breathtaking arrogance in the face of their obvious stupidity?  The answer, I believe, is to be found in the work of two Cornell University psychology professors, Justin Kruger and David Dunning, who have done extensive research on the topic of incompetence masked by overconfidence.

The result of their work is what has become known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Oversimplified, it is their contention that incompetent people often suffer from delusions of superiority that result in their vastly overrating their own abilities.

Interestingly, it is the very fact that these people have such a low level of competence that they lack the awareness to accurately assess their own skills.  Further, they tend not to recognize the higher skill level in others.

Worst of all, because they do not recognize their lack of skills, they are extremely difficult to teach.  Over the years, I’ve run into this phenomenon with many job applicants and new employees.

When I was a real estate broker in my late twenties, I became conscious of the fact that I was surrounded by human blasts of hot air from every direction — buyers, sellers, real estate agents, and, above all, attorneys.  With just a handful of exceptions, I found that most of the people I dealt with seemed to have an abundance of self-confidence but, to put it mildly, had no idea what they were talking about.

In today’s Internet age, I find the Dunning-Kruger effect to be more rampant than ever.  Incompetence has become a pandemic, as has its bedfellow, overconfidence.  There’s something about the Internet that makes the most inept people believe they can make a fortune sitting at the kitchen table in their underwear while hatching get-rich-quick marketing schemes on their laptops.

Having said all this, I should point out that there’s another aspect of the Dunning-Kruger effect that you should to be aware of if you are fortunate enough to be among those who are blessed with a high degree of competency, and it is this:  Many people who are highly competent tend to overrate the competency of those with whom they come in contact and underrate their own competency.  For lack of a better name, let’s call it the Reverse Dunning-Kruger effect.

When I was a wet-behind-the-ears entrepreneur in my mid-twenties, I tended to be intimidated — even awed — by the hotshots who had all the answers.  I couldn’t understand why I was so dumb when everyone around me seemed to be so smart.  Little did I know that my feelings of inferiority were a good sign of things to come.

Why?  Because I now understand that people who suffer from the Kruger-Dunning effect have no such worries.  They really believe their flattering opinions of themselves, and their false self-assessment blinds them from seeing the depth of their own incompetency.  In other words, they do not have enough knowledge to know what they do not know.

I recall, some years back, one of the smartest, most competent people I’ve ever worked with telling me that he fears making decisions because he worries about being wrong and looking bad in the eyes of his employees.  He said he didn’t trust his own judgment because he felt his opinions were biased and he therefore needed the perspective of people smarter than him.

This is dangerous thinking.  When you’re good at something, it’s a big mistake to assume that other people are good at it as well.  Worse, it tends to cause you to underestimate your own ability.  To paraphrase a conclusion of Dunning and Kruger, the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error in judging the abilities of others.

Thus, as strange as it may seem, a high level of competence may actually weaken one’s self-confidence, as the competent individual may falsely assume that others have an understanding of the subject at hand that is equivalent to his own.  Trust me, they usually don’t.

In case you’re confused or worried about whether you are afflicted by the Dunning-Kruger effect or the Reverse Dunning-Kruger effect, allow me to sum it up simply:  Just ask yourself how close your mind-set is to that of a pretty competent guy by the name of Albert Einstein, who once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

If you can relate to Einstein’s words, you are almost certainly not afflicted with the Dunning-Kruger effect.  That being the case, you should concentrate your efforts on (1) not allowing yourself to become a Reverse Dunning-Kruger victim and (2) steering clear of the Dunning-Kruger types who saturate the world around you, especially those in your work life.

As to those who are not directly involved in your business or personal life — e.g., politicians and Radical Left media types — the easiest workaround is to literally tune them out.  I can tell you it works, because I do it every day of my life by utilizing the fast-forward button on my trusty remote.

Hannity can give malevolent clowns like Mika and Joe free publicity every night of the week if he so desires, but, thank goodness, he does not control my remote.  As Milton Friedman put it, I am free to choose.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.