The Why #19: Why does everyone think they’re a great driver?

By Dan Monheit 14.5.21

Question submitted by Marcie, Docklands

It seems there are only two types of drivers in the world; those who think they’re better than everyone else, and the 20 professional formula one drivers (earning up to $76 million a year driving a car around a track) who probably are.

While a little confidence can go a long way, my own confidence in year 10 mathematics (thank you Mr Wozney) tells me that we can’t ALL be above average now, can we Marcie?

As we know too well, the world is littered with these ‘experts’. Becky from accounts, who watched one episode of Q&A and is now the leading thinker on Australia’s foreign trade policy; your friend’s brother Phil, who played 11 games of football in high school and is adamant he could do a better job coaching the doggies this season; and of course the worst of them all, Laurence, who took a three hour wine appreciation course in 2009 and is now everyone’s resident sommelier. Alas, even my own son, a plucky eight year old, convinced he’ll make the NBA given he’s ‘already the third best shooter in his class’ is not immune.

So let’s sit down Marcie, buckle up, and get ready for a ride on the humility highway.

Dunning Kruger Effect

The Dunning Kruger Effect states that people with low levels of proficiency tend to overestimate their ability to perform a task. At the same time, those who are highly proficient tend to sell themselves short.

The theory goes that when you’re completely new at something, you suck so badly that you don’t even realise all the ways you suck. As you get better and better, you start to recognise how much more there is to know, causing you to feel that in reality, you know pretty much nothing at all.

Research conducted in 2003 by (THE) Dunning and (THE) Kruger asked students who recently finished an exam to rate how well they thought they did in comparison to their peers. By mapping the student’s actual scores against how well they thought they’d fared, Dunning and Kruger made a discovery: The students who bombed the test greatly overestimated their ability compared to others, whereas the star students with top marks underestimated how well they’d done. Essentially, the less they knew, the more confident they were.

In today’s world of vigorous online debates, The Dunning Kruger effect is what keeps the idiots loud and proud, while the experts stay quiet and wonder if they really know enough to offer an opinion.

When it comes to driving, we all know enough to be dangerous, especially early on. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of things. This pedal is go. That pedal is stop. Turn the wheel. Check the mirror. Nothing to it!
In reality, we barely scratch the surface of what it takes to be a proficient driver. Add in a little torrential rain, some tram tracks, a hook turn and a reverse parallel park on a steep incline and we’ll soon find out what’s what.

As advertising, sales and marketing folk, we’re often pitching to people whose confidence to competence ratio is way out of whack. When confronted with a ‘premature expert’, the play is to slowly, gently offer guidance and information that will help them realise there’s way more to consider. Personal anecdotes (“I spent way too much on my first bike…”) and open ended questions (“what style of cycling is your go to?”) are your best weapons for building trust and setting the foundation for a mutually beneficial, long term relationship.

When talking to the chronically underconfident, offer reassurance and bridges between what they know they know, and where you want them to go (“if you can count to 8, you can learn the harmonica”). Helping prospects realise that they’ve got the skills, knowledge and ability to take the next step can have them heading for the checkout with confidence.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why smart people believe dumb horoscopes here.

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about the Dunning Kruger Effect on episode 31 of the Bad Decisions podcast.

Got a question?
Is there something you’ve always wondered about?
Send it through to AskDan@hardhat.com.au

Want more?
Check out Dan’s write up in Smart Company on The Lemonade effect: What every business can learn from this startup’s focus on scarcity

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