Are we as competent as we think we are? It depends on how competent we really are . . .

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Dunning-Krueger effect
Dunning-Krueger effect
Notice how there is a really sharp decline in confidence level as we learn we don’t really know what we are doing, but this drops even further as we become experts — and never — even when we know what we are doing — equates our belief in our understanding even when we are truly an expert.

Here’s a challenge that may cause you to think about your business practices and marketing effectiveness. The source of this abstract discussion is from a network of extremely intelligent people. (Some details need to remain confidential because this is a closed, or private, group).

Have you experienced this. If so how so?

“The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately. Their research also suggests corollaries: highly skilled individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.” (Wikipedia)

Fair enough. Here are some of the comments so far:

  • I also depend on the input of others for knowledge or thought that what I do is complex or intelligently diligent, but arrogance kicks in and makes you jump to conclusions, that is, without analyzing everything first. It seems like the tip of the iceberg exploring the rest of itself.
  • ‘m a damn fool
  • It’s much more complicated than that. DKE often exists in the same individual in both forms because no one is at the same level if accomplishment in everything. A computer genius may underestimate his software engineering skills while over-estimating his social skills.
  • d’oh!

In other words, if we really know what we are doing, we tend to underestimate our abilities and capacities, and if we are ignorant, we think we really know more than we do. And we can be both at the same time; a really deadly combination, I think.

From a marketing perspective, Dr. Paul Marsden observes these thoughts about how this effect has influenced content marketing decisions:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in psychology that explains the success of content marketing.

But with a twist.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is the illusion of competence that comes from ignorance.  We see something and we say to ourselves – ‘I could do that – how hard can it be?’ – without fully understanding the skill and experience required for mastery.  The Dunning–Kruger effect can be a good thing because it gives us a false sense of confidence to try something new for the first time. Without the naive optimism of the Dunning–Kruger effect, we’d probably give up on a lot of things without even trying.

So how can the Dunning–Kruger effect explain the success of content marketing?

The Dunning–Kruger effect explains the success of content marketing among us as marketers, not among our audiences.

As marketers, we look at the entertainment and education industries, from publishing houses to Hollywood, and say ‘We could do that – how hard can it be?’.

Except of course, we can’t.  The Dunning-Kruger effect means we’re not only not right, we’re not even wrong.

If the publishing industry in its current state of crisis can’t make publishing pay, how come we marketers think we can? The answer is the Dunning–Kruger effect – the cognitive bias of overrating ourselves and our capabilities based on the blind bliss of ignorance.

Becoming a successful publisher or producer of education or entertainment content requires the decades of expertise and experience upon which the education and entertainment industries are built.  As marketers, we can’t just wing it.  If we try, we will crash and burn.  Which is what content marketing is doing.

In 2015, smart brands will get wise to the Dunning–Kruger effect, and get back to doing what they do best, delivering value through advertised products and services – not moonlighting as wannabe publishers, comedians, and movie makers.

And of course we can take this another way — if we are in fact “publishers, comedians and movie makers” maybe we are under-rating our own abilities and should learn a bit more about marketing.

Finally, you can see the value of hiring/contracting with recognized experts in areas where you are less-than-effective. Trouble is, you won’t instinctively believe you need to do this — and if you indeed are the expert, you’ll have an uphill battle in convincing the uninformed and ignorant.

The world is not fair.

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