Why People Over/Under-estimate What They Know About Your Demos

Have you ever had a demo, and someone said something so ridiculous that you stopped in your tracks and paused, not knowing how to respond? The seem so confident, yet they are wrong. How do you tell your prospect that they are wrong? I’ll save that for another post, because today we’re talking about why they thought they were right.

From the Rationalpedia entry for Dunning-Kruger:

The Dunning-Kruger effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyse their performance, leading to a significant overestimate of themselves.

In simple words it’s “people who are too stupid to know how stupid they are”.

The inverse also applies: competent people tend to underestimate their ability compared to others; this is known as impostor syndrome.

If you have no doubts whatsoever about your competence, you could just be that damn good. On the other hand…

Why did they even want to figure this out? They read the story of a man, McArthur Wheeler who… well…

The Story of Mr. McArthur Wheeler

On one fine morning in Pittsburgh (PA), in the year 1995, a man aged 44, known by the name McArthur Wheeler decided to rob a bank. Since he thought he knew a lot about a peculiar chemical property of lemon juice, he decided to smear the juice on his face before executing his plan to rob the bank. […]

source here

Back to demos and presentations, it is apparent that those who are very knowledgeable UNDER-estimate their knowledge and ability (kind of like ‘the more you know, the more you realize how little yuo know’).

But just as you’re figuring out, the less you know about something, the more you OVER-estimate your knowledge. You simply have no idea how little you know.

So our hapless CEO, in trying to trip you up, while impressing his/her flock, has put you in a very dangerous position. Either you agree with their error, or you correct them. Yikes!

There is a better way around this dilemma, of course, and I choose to ‘give them a way out’. Without getting too technical into how little I know about psychology (see what I did there?), a person who is challenged about their beliefs with expert information-especially indisputable evidence-is backed into a corner themselves. They cannot argue with you their point, because you come from a position of greater knowledge.

You are FORCING them to admit guilt! Demo Suicide!

I explain to them that there is ‘new’ information available (that they may not be aware of) that will allow them to make a more informed decision. I say something like:

“There have been recent advances in our industry that you may not have heard about yet that might make you reconsider your decision.”

You see? In this way, they are ‘off the hook’ for not making the best statement/decision. I’m just skimming the surface, but I hope this makes you a better demonstrator & speaker.

Further reading:

Full paper here

Wikipedia Entry For: Dunning-Kruger Effect

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