Incompetents May Not Know They Are Incompetent

Evelyn Ryan, Yourlifelifter
It is well understood, proven, and th-29documented that to achieve goals we need to identify and deal with the obstacles that prevent us from achieving them. Some refer to these obstacles as “risks.” One of the primary obstacles or risks, we may have to deal with is the lack of knowledge, skills, or abilities we need to achieve the goal. Obviously we need the credentials to be a doctor, for example, that we would acquire through extensive education and training. The same principle can be applied to anything we desire to achieve.

It imperative then, to be able to identify what we don’t know so we can fill the gaps or even take advantage of opportunities that are afforded us.

What about incompetents? Where do they fit into the risk-based model for goal-setting?

They (especially since I worked for 35 years with some of the brightest people in the world) have puzzled me for years since to me they stand out like sore thumbs. But they do not seem to know who they are?

But we

They are the ones who hardly ever create or deliver anything on their own and manipulate others and put their names on other people’s work.

They never take a class in anything unless they are forced to take one.

They act like they are experts in their fields when it is obvious to most they absolutely are not.

They are also the know-it-alls we meet everyday who really know very little and add little value.

In trying to address these questions, I come upon a possible answer, the Dunning-Kruger effect.

David Dunning and Justin Kruger identified a problem in the perception of incompetents that causes them to overate their abilities and not be able to recognize mistakes. This can weaken the real competent folks’ self-confidence, since they may falsely assume that others have equal abilities.

David Dunning and Justin Kruger were awarded the 2000 satirical Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology for their report, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from imagined superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes. Illusory superiority causes people to overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and to underestimate their negative qualities, relative to others. Metacognition is defined as “cognition about cognition,” or “knowing about knowing.”

Kruger and Dunning proposed that, “for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  1. Tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. Fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. Fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy; and
  4. Recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.”

So the incompetents are not ABLE to know what they don’t know so they can’t and don’t work to fill the gaps and in the process, negatively impact the self-confidence of the real competent folks. The incompetents hardly ever take classes so how will they ever recognize their lack of skills, knowledge and abilities?

Dunning and Kruger, however, did not discuss what causes this screwed up perception but like everything, genetic predisposition and one’s upbringing are most likely at the top of list. The ignorant beget ignorance, perhaps?

Or is this another group of personality-disordered folks who act normal, manipulate others, and do immeasurable harm to others in the process?

Again, we need to recognize these broken ones and learn how to protect ourselves from being violated or harmed by them.

I will continue to write about practical ways we can protect ourselves from these and other emotional vampires in the Yourlifelifter blog at and Facebook Page at and would appreciate your feedback.

Methods to deal with our limitations and fears, set goals, and acquire skills, knowledge and abilities to achieve them are available in the self-help and life coaching products offered at our website at

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