So, you think "you're all that." Welcome to the club. Almost everyone does.
87% of MBA students at Stanford rated their academic performance as above average. 68% of faculty at the University of Nebraska rated themselves in the top 25% for teaching ability. 93% of American drivers think their skill puts them in the top 50%. A study of students taking the SAT found that 70% thought their leadership skills were above average and 85% thought they were above average when it came to getting along with others.
Since, by definition, only half of us can be in the top half of anything, most of these people had an overly optimistic opinion of their own abilities. It's called Illusory Superiority or the Dunning-Kruger Effect and it's another cognitive bias that distorts our thinking.
Cornell professors David Dunning and Justin Kruger won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Psychology for explaining this phenomenon in their paper, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self Assessments.
Why it Matters to Marketers
If sales of your product or service depend on people recognizing their need for it, then you better pay attention to illustory superiority. Since people over-estimate their own abilities, it follows that they will understimate their need for improvement. That means they may think your product must be for someone else--someone with lesser abilities than themselves. That could artificially limit your market.
To make matters worse, because of Illustory Superiority, people think they are personally less susceptible to Illustory Superiority than most people! The problem itself makes people less likely to recognize and overcome it.
Fortunately, Dunning and Kruger also found that people will, "Recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill." So, there's hope. But how do you help them do that? Here are some ideas:
- Use Objective Measures: Help people understand their need for your product by using objective measures. Instead of saying, "If you suffer from indigestion..." (which allows people to define the term "suffer" for themselves), say, "If you have indigestion more than three times in a month, then you need Product X..."
- Leverage Norms: Compare objective measures to societal norms. "Everyone has indigestion from time to time. In fact, the average is once a month. If you're have it more often than that, you're above average and should consider treating it with Product X..."
The Dunning-Kruger Effect aside, if you're reading my blog then you are clearly above average. So, congratulations and spread the fire. GS