Archive for August, 2010


question markTrue story: A guy robs several Pittsburgh banks fully undisguised. His face is recognized clearly on video surveillance, and he is caught. When asked by investigators why he didn’t wear a mask, he said “I wore the juice.”

The bank robber was convinced that lemon juice, when applied to the face, makes you invisible to cameras.

This is a leading example in a paper called “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments.” In essence, the paper suggests that this bank robber wasn’t just too stupid to be a bank robber. He was too stupid to know he is too stupid to be a bank robber.

The paper actually generated a term for this dynamic. Which I just love. When you’re too incompetent to know you’re incompetent, you’re exercising The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Here’s how they put it:

When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like [the bank robber], they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.

This has to be my favorite research paper. It came back across my radar not long ago, but in a strange way. In a guest blog post, I casually used the term “agnostic” when trying to describe people who refuse to believe in personal branding: “I am not a brand, spiel the brand agnostics. Don’t commoditize me.”

I was slightly uncomfortable with this line, knowing somewhere in the back of my mind that I didn’t have a very deep understanding of what an agnostic really is, or how it’s different from atheism. So I did some casual searching about agnosticism and the paper turned up.

Turns out I was right about not knowing. What a gem of an insight for managing brands.


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