Tag Archives: social comparison bias

Transverse Selection as a source of inefficiency and incompetence

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I once worked for a government office admin professional, one of the most powerful GS employees in his agency at the time, who boasted about rejecting a well-qualified candidate for a computer programming position because the guy had worn white socks with dress pants and dress shoes.

We see interview advice all the time targeting the interviewee, advice on grooming and speech and how to compose and format a résumé. “Five Huge Mistakes You Should Avoid During an Interview” is a web headline sure to go viral.

We don’t often see advice for interviewers and hiring officials steering them away from mistakes, however. We seem to simply assume they’ll do the right thing. They’re trained professionals, after all.

This is a dumb assumption.

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How “Dunning Blindness” can doom an organization

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Dr. David Dunning is already known for the infamous Dunning-Kruger Effect, a phenomenon that is of core importance to organizational theory: People who are incompetent in a given task tend to overestimate their ability, and tend to be resistant to evidence and feedback about their incompetence.

This inability of the less competent to assess their own ability extends to interpersonal assessments. As Dr. Dunning puts it, “To the extent that you are incompetent, you are a worse judge of incompetence in other people.”

We call this phenomenon Dunning Blindness, and would paraphrase the principle this way: The less competent are generally incapable of recognizing the more competent. Think of it in terms of color vision. If Jay can only see in black and white, he’s not going to be a very good judge of the decorating skills of Bob, who has perfect color vision.

As you can imagine, Dunning Blindness has enormous implications for hiring, placement, and promotion. In fact, it likely accounts for a significant portion of inefficiency within organizations, if not a majority of it.

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