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By Jorge Manuel Zelaya Fajardo

August 21st,2020


 “Ignorance breeds confidence more often that knowledge.”

-- Charles Darwin




 I must confess that the first time I heard about the Dunning-Kruger effect I felt a bit uncomfortable. An awkwardness stemming from a potential uncovered truth. My first thought was: Am I suffering from the Dunning Kruger effect without knowing it?  Therefore I proceeded to do what I usually do whenever I have a doubt ... I immerse myself in the insatiable and tireless search for knowledge in any possible reliable source. After doing so, a simultaneous calm and unease came to me. The calm was due to the fact that when I read carefully what the effect consisted of, I realized that practically all human beings have it , to a lesser or greater degree. The concern came from finding out what I should do about it now.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a bias whereby human beings, with little skill or knowledge in some subject, suffer from an illusory superiority considering themselves more skillful, capable or intelligent than other people with confirmed greater preparation than themselves. However, perhaps the most serious problem is that the person himself has a manifest inability not to recognize his own incompetence. David Dunning (Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University and professor at Cornell) and Justin Kruger (Ph.D. in psychology from Cornell University and professor at New York University) formally presented the study results in 1999 with a publication in the renowned Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

  I must confess that my greatest discomfort with the study did  not lay  in the fact that I showed the Dunning-Kruger effect in some activities of my life; but rather that my passion for the concepts of reaching my maximum potential, developing self-esteem and self-confidence, were somewhat questioned by my personal bias. So how do you know if you are as good as you think you are? How do you know where the fine nylon line is between self-esteem and illusory superiority? This made me,in a very healthy way, question my knowledge by submitting myself to a more in-depth study.


The truth is that it was not until a couple of years later, that due to the testimony of two professional sports’ legends   that I managed to find the answer, at least partially. Bob Bowman, swimming coach of Olympic champion Michael Phelps and the recently deceased Kobe Bryant, one of the best players in the history of world basketball. Both sports legends could, through a single sentence each and independently, very positively influence my understanding of the Dunning-Kruger effect within the infinite imperfection of my intellect. Bob Bowman redefines the concept of champion as: “Not only the person who beats others in competition by taking the medals, but the one who, even better, beats himself. “ A simply powerful phrase. On the other hand, Kobe Bryant made it clear very well when in an interview with the Wall Street Journal newspaper, already retired from basketball and beginning his career in business, he said: “I don't know if I'm good at business, but I'm going to find out for myself."  A extraordinary mix of determination and courage.

 Both human beings  helped me to  clearly see  the basis of what could be the antidote to the Dunning-Kruger effect: Having that unique  combination of humility and self-esteem to undergo the real test and not the subjective opinion of what oneself believes or wants to believe. The message is very clear: The only way to know if I am that good is to try it out for myself, overcoming my own limitations but obediently submitting myself to the test of seeing the results obtained. Results strip us. The measurable results, audited by third parties and under equal conditions for our competitors, are really a key piece in the process. Definitely the antidote for the Dunning-Kruger effect is a capsule of two parts, which are: a) The results obtained from our performance and b) The objective feedback from everyone that watches our performance.

 The results, being cold and dispassionate, provide me with a report card that should not be rationalized, justified or questioned; but rather studied and analyzed. If I did not get the results, it is a matter of an error in the process or simply that there is something that I do not know how to do or am not doing.

Honest, direct, genuine and timely feedback is impressively effective. It may not be so pleasant to our ears that our affective shield will rush to protect us; however, the goal should be to listen carefully to it.


Due to my Reticular Activating System in the brain, just learning what the Dunning-Kruger effect is, made me notice it in political leaders, business leaders, athletes and public figures. Now I see more often people who have manifestations of deep illusory superiority who really think they are more competent than they really are, belittling professionals with much better preparation and more experience.

 Finally, I think that seeing the results and receiving adequate feedback on our actual performance would be halfway there, if we did not seek ACTION. Personally, I think this action is called KAIZEN (continuous improvement in Japanese). Disciplining ourselves to improve, correct, or redirect after seeing results dooms us to reduce the Dunning-Kruger effect.



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