Do you remember when you read these slides ten times but when it was the moment to present you blanked out on many parts? Alternatively, when you studied for many weeks to fail miserably in an exam? When (you thought) you mastered a skill by watching a YouTube video before trying it and embarrassing yourself?
I did crash many times before learning about “The illusion of competence.” It’s when a person thinks she knows more than she really does. People exhibit this illusion while reading a book, highlighting sentences, and taking notes. We think that we have just mastered the subject at hand.
Why shouldn’t you feel strongly about something?
The illusion of competence goes beyond studying for an exam. It’s also extensible to how a person assesses their opinions and shapes their views about themselves and the world.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a bias in which people exhibit illusory superiority. It’s when people assess their abilities to be better than their peers even though there’s nothing really special about them. It’s called the above-average effect for a reason.
In the past, I exhibited illusory superiority. I was opinionated about many topics in life just because I’ve read a couple of books about the subject. When one of my friends called me out about my sweeping statements, I learned that I’m not as informed as I expected myself to be.
The difference between being informed and being specialized
In hindsight, I recalled many people that I previously called genius in my life. I remembered how my previous manager would be pretty reserved when taking any stances outside his domain of knowledge. He would qualify his statements with: “I doubt,” “I think,” or “I don’t have a strong feeling.”
But these statements are not something we could say if we needed to gain credibility in this age. We’re under constant pressure to read the next book or attend the next class. We want to run around and fool ourselves about how much we learned and how much we know.
We want to take a firm stance and show everyone that we understand the world better than they do. What happens if we just took a moment and thought about if we’ve really mastered the topic at hand before moving to the next one?
When do you really learn about something?
At the end of the day, if you don’t work on it, you don’t know it. If you don’t memorize by heart, you don’t know it. If you can’t explain it to a layperson, you don’t know it. If you don’t spend years of your life doing it, you don’t know it.
It’s OK to learn from others
Open up and accept the fact that you don’t have to have a strong feeling about every matter in life. Saying “I’m not completely aware of the whereabouts” or “I ’ll have to learn more about it” made me a better person. I hope it makes you a better one too.