Pursue What Matters
Episode 149: Are you Stranded at the Top of Mount Stupid?
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Boy oh boy, we’ve all been there. We think we know how to climb a mountain only to find out as we get to the cliff’s edge that we are in over our heads. Only one problem, we don’t know enough to get ourselves down. So join me as I help you avoid getting stranded at the top of Mount stupid.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:23
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Today, we’re going to talk about something that almost all of us have experienced, maybe we set out on a trial, confident that we know what to do and how to do it, only to realize along the way that we are in over our heads, we don’t have the competence required to see ourselves through. Now, I have literally experienced this on a mountain where I could climb up. And it was hard, it was challenging. But then once I got to the top, I did not know how to navigate my way down. Right. So climbing up is different from climbing down. Sometimes it’s easy to assume that it’s right. Like it’s it’s the same kind of difficulty. And it’s not climbing down from a mountain can be very challenging. And of course, we’re using the mountain as a metaphor for things we take on in life, right, like challenges and skill development, where maybe we’re in over our heads. So I would also say right, so I said almost all of us have experienced this. And what I would say is if you haven’t experienced this, in fact, right where you’re you recognize you’re in over your head, then you might be playing it too safe. Because part of what happens when we’re growing and we’re taking risks, hopefully smart risk, is that there will be times when we crash and burn there will be times when we’re in over our heads. And so the point there is that this is a common human experience, right that as we develop our skills, our confidence outpaces our competence. And that’s really what we’re talking about today. And so when we think about that common human experience, right, the key is to really develop more self awareness so that we don’t get caught on the top of Mount stupid.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:38
So last week, we really asked the question, do you have a confidence blind spot, and we talked about two common blind spots that show up for us as it relates to confidence. So the first is the armchair quarterback syndrome, where your confidence exceeds your competence. And this is really where we can find ourselves on top of Mount stupid. And then the second blind spot is imposter syndrome. And that’s where our competence exceeds our confidence. And this can really be a big problem, because we don’t, we don’t develop the skills that we need to and we have the skills, but we stay stuck in positions below our skill level potentially right if we’re thinking about that as it applies to work. And so both of these can be big problems. Because right in essence, we fail to see ourselves, our skills and our challenges clearly. And so today, we’re really going to focus on a phenomenon that we often see with the armchair quarterback. So this is known as the Dunning Kruger effect. And it is based on research by who else Dunning and Kruger so these are two, social, social psychology I believe, researchers who conducted this really great research, and there’s there is a whole body of understanding now that has been developed based on this research. And so this is key because I promise you, you will run into this effect, right? This Dunning Kruger effect, both in your personal life and in your professional life. Right. It’s it becomes a big issue around decision making. We also see the Dunning Kruger effect everywhere on social media. So I will I’ll unpack that in a bit. But it is prevalent is pervasive on social media, but we also see it at work. And so the Dunning Kruger effect absolutely undermines our ability to be successful and to make good decisions for ourselves. And so, you know, every week my goal with the podcast is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead we do that with clarity by connecting you to purpose. We do that with curiosity to help connect to a self awareness and we do that with Leading and building a community. So what are the skills to help you to lead a team? Wow. And so primarily, we’re really paying attention to two areas today. The first is curiosity.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:12
So we’ve, we’ve got to, we’ve got to increase our self awareness so that we don’t get caught in this Dunning Kruger effect. So we don’t get stranded on the top of Mount stupid, but it’s also this is also very applicable to our relationships, especially at work, right? Primarily, that’s what we’re paying attention to, but it certainly fits other relationships as well. So can we recognize when that Dunning Kruger effect shows up, either for ourselves or for others, because, boy, when we are blind to this effect, we make bad decisions, we undermine success. And we could land ourselves in a world of hurt and trouble. So let’s, let’s jump in and explain what this is. So the Dunning Kruger effect really helps us understand skill and confidence. So those are really the two components that we are paying attention to. So this was research done by Dunning and Kruger on skill and confidence. And basically, they asked, you know, how are we doing in terms of matching our skill level and confidence level? And the answer that they found based on their research? And it was a resounding answer is, we don’t do very good at all. So we don’t have a good awareness and assessment of our skill level and our confidence level.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:36
And so the first rule, so this is from David Dunning, who is one of the researchers, and he said the first rule of the Dunning Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning Kruger club. And let me tell you, you don’t want to be a member of the Dunning Kruger club. And so there are a few points that I want to make to to help you understand this effect. So the first point is, we tend to have major blind spots when it comes to accurately assessing our skills and confidence. So if we look to their research, right, they had individuals take logical tests, right? And then they they were assessed on their estimation of their skills on those tests. So basically, everyone took a logical test. And then after they completed that the researchers asked them, Okay, well, how do you think you did? Right? Do you think you were at the top of the class? Do you think you were the bottom of the class? Like, where do you think you ranked relative to peers. And this is what they found that by and large, participants absolutely overestimated their skills on tests on those logical tests. So they believed that they did better than 62% of their peers. So right, like these folks really thought they were out shining their peers. So they did they believe that they did better than 62% of their peers. Wow, what was the reality? So what was the truth there? So in reality, these individuals only outperformed 12% of their peers. So they thought, right, that they outperform 62% of their peers, but they only outperform 12% of their peers. And so what’s the take home message here, we think we’re much more competent than we are. So this is a classic example of the armchair quarterback syndrome. So we have more confidence than competence. And so, you know, we think about the first rule of the Dunning Kruger club is you don’t know you remember, another message that really applies to this effect is, those who can’t, don’t know they can’t. So you think you’re really good at these logical tests, but you’re not. And you really don’t have a clear understanding of just how not good you are at it. And so when confidence exceeds competence, watch out, because you can really get a lot of things wrong, but you can get things wrong with a lot of confidence. And so you can lead others astray as well. So obviously, we don’t want that. And this really shows up on teams.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:27
So those who have a persuasive argument those who can fat travel faster, intellectually, right, in terms of their verbal skills, can really sway the vote, they can they can persuade team members, but they might not have a foundation in competence, or foundation in skills and knowledge about what they are persuading people around so it can lead to big problems. So that’s the first point that we all have. Major blind spots and most of us, right like when it comes to assessing our skills and confidence, we just don’t see ourselves clearly. And now let’s move to the second point, which is, the more we lack competence, the more likely we are to be overconfident. Okay?
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:16
So just listen to that, again, the more we lack competence, the more likely we are to be overconfident. This is a big problem. So there’s an inverse relationship between competence and confidence. So the lower our skills are, the higher our confidence is in those skills. Okay, so there’s a really big gap there between competence and confidence. And so this comes to us from Adam Grant. Now, Adam Grant talks about a lot of these concepts in his excellent. His excellent book, think, again, I did a book review on that, not too long ago, but this is what he had to say about this. It’s when we lack competence, that we’re most likely to be brimming with overconfidence, okay. And again, this is probably a problem because we can be very persuasive in those moments. So that’s the second point. Now let’s move to the third point as it relates to this Dunning Kruger effect. So it’s not just skills, but intelligence too. So right, like we overestimate our skills. But what they found in this research is we also overestimate our intelligence. So the less intelligent you are in a specific area, the more you overestimate your intelligence in that area. So right, this is exactly where we think about the armchair quarterback, you have someone who’s sitting there in the armchair. And they are the expert on, on everything related to football. This leads to big blind spots. So it creates big problems in terms of skill development, and competence. And of course, it compromises our self awareness, because we think we know. And of course, over time, this leads to compounding problems. And I’ve already mentioned this, but if you sound confident, others will listen to you and you can persuade a lot of people. But you don’t have a shore foundation behind that confidence.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:17
Okay, so now let’s move to the fourth point to help us understand this effect. So we don’t want to get stranded at the top of mountain stupid. And so that is a term that comes from the social social psychology literature. It’s a term that Adam Grant also talks about, but this is this is based in some really compelling research. And so one component of the Dunning Kruger effect is what happens when we are moving from a novice to an amateur, right? So if we think about, we think about this effect, it’s all about skills and confidence. So let’s think about a novice, a novice knows nothing, right? Like you’re a neophyte, you’re brand new, to, you know, the career or the activity to the skill, right? And then we have the amateur. Now, the amateur knows enough to be dangerous, okay. And this, this is very, very dangerous. And then we have the expert, right. And then there may be there’s another category in there, probably just a little more nuance, but for our purposes, we’ll talk about the novice to amateur and the expert. So after the amateur, then we have the expert. And these are the folks that know enough to be humble and wise. Right. And so I think about this in terms of they’re confidently humble, they have some trust in their skills in their expertise, but they have a healthy respect for the challenge of what they are doing. And so this is this is where we see some trouble when it comes to the Dunning Kruger effect that as you progress from a novice to an amateur, right, so you know, nothing to knowing a little bit more. It’s very, very common common for overconfidence to set in, okay. And so this sets off the overconfidence cycle. So what happens? You gain experience, right? So you’re novice, and then you gain experience and your confidence climbs faster than your competence, right?
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:23
So your confidence climbs faster than your skill development. And then that confidence remains higher than competence from that point on. Okay, so one of the most important things to pay attention to is that experience is not the same thing as expertise. Now, we’ve got some great evidence about this in many different fields, right? Like you could be a therapist, for example, right, a field that’s close to my heart. You can be a therapist for a long, long time. And in that span of time, let’s say it’s 20 years in that span of time, you gain a lot of experience without increasing your expertise, right, you just kind of settle into second gear, and you cruise forward for 20 years, but you’re not actually increasing your skills or your expertise, because that requires some intentionality. And so it’s important to remember that experience is not the same thing as expertise. So that first part of the overconfidence cycle is that we gain experience, and our confidence climbs faster than our competence. And then, the other thing that happens with that is that as we gain experience, we lose humility, right. And humility is such a key for keeping us in the safe zone. So we lose humility, and we gain pride, which promotes a false sense of mastery, right. And this is really where we see that overconfidence, it’s like, Hey, I’ve got this down. And so this is a really good example of when being confident is a problem. If you don’t have the skills in place, confidence can be a very big problem.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:10
Okay, and so the analogy here, right with the mountain is you have enough skills to get yourself to the summit right to the top of the mountain, but you don’t have enough skills, right? You don’t have enough expertise to get yourself down again. And so we see this phenomenon in many, many professions, including air airplane pilots, right. And so this was, you know, this is an important study that has has created a lot of understanding for folks in that industry. And I think it’s equally applicable to us, right? There’s a lot that we can learn from that. So, of course, we know when it comes to flying it very unforgiving, right, there is a there’s a specific protocol and process involved in flying. I have a brother in law, who is a pilot, my guy friend is a flight surgeon. And so I hear a lot of talk about flying at my house. And it’s it’s fun, and there’s a lot of YouTube videos happening around me related to flying. But if we look at this research, they they took a look at novices, amateurs and experts, pilots, and they asked who is the group that has the most incidents? Right? So instance we think about accidents, engine failure, we think about weather issues we think about.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:37
So this is from the FAA, right? What, so what counts as an incident, right? And you can look into the resource to find a little more information about that. But who would you guess, as a as a group had the most airplane incidents, flying incidents? So is it the novice who knows nothing? Right? Maybe you maybe you cast your vote there? Is it the amateur who knows something? Or is it the expert? Who knows a lot, so maybe that experts getting complacent? So what they found in their research is that it is the amateur, right? So that group of amateurs, by and large had the highest incident rate when it came to flying. So the most accidents didn’t happen between, you know, zero, and 150 hours of flying, right, which is how they track it. And the accidents weren’t happening happening. When people had, you know, 1000 hours of flying, it was happening for those amateurs, right around 200 hours of flying was the window of the highest incidence. And so why is it the amateur?
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:53
Okay, so why is the amateur got the most incidents? And it’s because they have some competence, but they have a lot of confidence, right? Like they’ve been flying 200 hours, they may believe that they have mastered this skill. And so it’s a classic example of how confidence outpaces competence. And so, you know, we want to be aware that a little bit of knowledge is very dangerous. And so these pilots believe they are more skilled than they actually are. And think about novices, right, like novices know, they know nothing. And that really brings a lot of humility to your endeavor. Experts on the other hand, right, they know that they know a lot they know that they have a lot of experience. But because of that knowledge because of that experience, they’ve had enough time to learn that things can go wrong in many, many ways. And so it leads to humility, about the process of flying, it leads to to a very healthy respect for the importance of your protocols and your processes. And so experts actually become more careful flying with more experience, because they really recognize like, Hey, this is a dangerous endeavor, I need to have both eyes, both eyes up and, and on alert. And so when confidence is high, but competence is low, there’s a very high likelihood that you will get stranded at the top of Mount stupid or right, like have an airplane incident. So another profession where we see this is in medical residency training. And so we see this with interns. So some of the some of the research around this, it’s really interesting, as they looked at, you know, these public health studies, they found that mortality rates in hospitals spike across the country in July. Now, why is that? Right? July is not in the middle of the winter, for North America, right. And so it’s not like we have a higher incidence of flu or some of those viral conditions that we really experienced a lot in the winter months. Why July? What is going on. And as they, as they jumped into that data, and really looked at it, they found a very clear pattern. And this is when new interns take over in hospitals around the country. Right? So July 1, is when newly graduated medical students, right, so they’ve just graduated from their four years of medical school, when they become interns, and they start running the hospitals. So you know, they would absolutely be considered amateurs, right? They have some knowledge under their belt, they have medical school, right. So they have four years of very good training and some good clinical experience, but they are not in any way prepared to deal with all of the demands, and you know, medical conditions that they see in a hospital, but they may think that they are and sometimes it’s a matter of like they’re just so so glad to be done with medical school and really into clinical care that they get out over their skis. So right like, I’m from the West, I like to ski, you don’t ever want to get out over your skis because you’re gonna you’re gonna end up in the powder, and not in a good way. So how does it happen that we get caught at the top of Mount stupid, so right, we have enough skills to get to the top of the mountain, but not enough skills to get ourselves down safely, again.
Dr. Melissa Smith 22:45
So it’s really important as we pay attention to this component of the Dunning Kruger effect, that lack of skills is not the primary problem, right? So think about those amateur pilots, they certainly have skills, think they have 200 hours of flying, right? Think about the interns that they certainly have skills, they’ve just spent four years in medical school and they graduated. So they they had to reach a certain point of skill development. So lack of skills is not the primary problem. The primary problem is an overestimation of skills. Okay? So it’s a classic example of where confidence outstrips competence, and we end up stranded at the top of that mountain, we end up with accidents, incidents, crises and mistakes, okay? And that can happen in every right like, think about any field that can happen, right? So what do we do about this? What are our solutions? So if we continue with this metaphor, right, the first thing that we want to do is we we must respect the mountain. So respect that you likely don’t know everything you need to know in order to be successful. It’s going to be really important to ask for feedback and heat it. Right.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:03
So most interns, we think about interns, they have some supervision, right? Like they have residents, they have attendings, and so, you know, some describe the feedback during internship and residency is brutal. And it is for a reason, right? Like you need to, you need to understand what your blind spots are, and minimize those. So, as we think about respecting the mountain, we also want to invite perspective, we want to have a mentor right. So whether it’s an attending, whether it’s a resident, if you think about your own development, do you have someone who not only has experience but also expertise, who can be a guide to you? So for, for the field of psychology, right? There’s a supervision process before graduation and also after graduation to really help build those skills and really help to assess those potential blind spots. We want to follow established procedures, they’re there for a reason. There’s a reason we have best practices. There’s a reason there are hospital protocols, there’s a reason there are flight protocols. And so follow those established procedures. And of course, above all else, Be humble, Be humble as you respect the challenges of your endeavor. So that’s the first solution that we have for you. And then the second solution that I have for you is to understand the topography of the mountain, right, you need to learn the process of growth. How does that happen? So you know, there is so there’s a really great diagram of this. And I will try to see if I can share this on social media, because I think this image really helps you to see what’s happening, but I will describe it for it for you. So right, when you become stranded at the top of that mountain, you know, you will typically experience a fall from grace because you can’t get yourself down. And this leads to the valley of despair. So that’s the way that it’s described in the research. And in that valley of despair, right, we have low confidence, and low confidence, because we’ve just fallen from grace. And so when we’re in that valley of despair, we really have nowhere to go. But up. But here’s the thing, we really want to make a steady climb, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, we don’t want to get out over our skis, we don’t want to run faster than we can run. And so as we climb steadily, we really experience this slope of enlightenment. So that’s what that’s termed, as in the research. And this is a gradual ascent, where confidence and competence increase in tandem, right, so we don’t have one outpacing the other and right, this prevents you from getting out over your skis. And then as we continue that process right up that slope of enlightenment, slow and steady wins the race. So with time, you get to a plateau of sustainability, in which your confidence equals your competence. So right, you have high confidence, and you have high competence. And what’s important to pay attention to at this plateau of sustainability is it is not ego driven. It’s actually based in facts, it’s based in a clear understanding of yourself, your skills, and the demands you face. And so this is a place where you, you can be a mentor, guiding others along their own path. And so I think that understanding can be really helpful, right? Like, we want to understand the topography of the mountain, we want to understand, you know, what do you do, once you’ve found yourself stuck, right?
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:48
Like, what does growth look like at that point, and there can be some painful moments in there. But if you’re willing to do the work, and carry some humility with you, you know that the chances of you getting to high confidence and high competence are very high. And so, as a reminder, the solutions that I had for you are to first respect the mountain, right? We approach it with humility, we ask for feedback perspective, we consider mentorship. And then second is understand the topography of the mountain. You’ve got to learn the process of growth, you’ve got to you’ve got to respect the requirements of growth, right? Like sure we all want to be confident and competent today, but that’s not actually how learning works.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:34
And so head on over to my website to check out the show notes for the resources on this episode. You can do that at www.drmelissasmith.com/149-mountstupid. So that’s one more time www.drmelissasmith.com/149-mountstupid, so I hope you will consider joining me on Instagram. I’m @dr.melissasmith I always have more resources related to the podcast topics. I also so appreciate it if you would take a few minutes and share a review of the podcast that gives me really valuable feedback and it helps others who might appreciate the podcast find us. So in the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
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