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The Dunning-Kruger effect (aka the story of my life)

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Here’s my career story in decades… 20s: Wildly confident. 30s: Self-doubting. 40s: Growing, grounded confidence.

I’m a textbook case of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

What is it?

It’s a cognitive bias described by two American psychologists in 1999. It plots the relationship between knowledge and confidence.

The Dunning-Kruger effect (source: Addy Bhardwal)

Basically, when we know very little, we’re very confident (i.e. me in my 20s). We don’t know what we don’t know, so we assume we know everything needed to master a domain. Our confidence is as high as it ever will be (or at least for a long time). But it rests on shaky foundations.

Then our knowledge builds and we become aware of just how much we don’t know (i.e. me in my late 20s to mid-30s). We know what we don’t know, and become daunted by how much there is to learn to master a domain. So our confidence plummets.

But then as we start to learn and build our knowledge, our confidence grows in a measured way (i.e. me in my late 30s onwards). We build confidence on a solid foundation of growing knowledge.

And, if we do it right and never stop learning, our confidence will never stop growing. It might never reach the giddy heights of our early ignorance. But – whatever heights it reaches – it will be built on solid foundations that we can rely on.

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