I’m in a precarious position. My job is to help you succeed by teaching you the stuff you need to learn. My job is to know what you don’t know, be the expert you can trust, and help you see things from a perspective you haven’t seen before.
My other job is to protect myself from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. (DKE)
According to Wikipedia, “the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability have illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is.”
People who suffer from this cognitive bias don’t know what they don’t know. They believe they have all the answers. They come across as arrogant, pushy, know-it-alls that annoy the heck out of true experts in that field.
As an author, business coach, and public speaker, I’m supposed to have all the answers. I’m supposed to know it all. Yet, how do I prevent myself from getting caught in the trap of illusory superiority?
The simple answer is Read.
“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” -Mark Twain
“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow …” -Lawrence Clark Powell
I subscribe to blogs and read books regularly, looking for new answers. Sometimes what I read challenges what I believe. I worry about my cognitive bias, wondering if the author knows something I don’t. Reading keeps me on my toes by presenting new ideas and opening me up to new worlds of thought.
The next best thing to do is Question everything you believe.
- Why do I believe what I believe?
- Where is my evidence?
- Do I have the most up-to-date information on this topic?
- Have I tested it?
- Is my information relevant to today?
- Are my sources up-to-date and staying current?
If all I ever did was give you information based off my own experiences running Toy House, then I might suffer from DKE. If all I ever did at Toy House was try to learn from my own mistakes without looking outside myself for help, then I most definitely suffered.
Yet isn’t that what so many business owners do? Especially the veterans who have been running their stores for years? They use their own experiences as the basis for everything and never try to learn from others.
“It is hard to read the label from inside the bottle.” -Roy H. Williams
Your biggest threat isn’t Amazon or the economy or the weather. It is in thinking you know all the answers and cannot be taught something new.
I fear this in myself. I have the confidence (arrogance?) to believe I have answers to pretty much any question about running an independent retailer. I guard myself against DKE, however, by reading and questioning everything I think I know. I did the same running Toy House. Didn’t know how to market and advertise? I turned to Seth Godin and Roy H. Williams. Didn’t know how to merchandise? I turned to Paco Underhill. I learned from them, tested it against what I thought I knew, and grew from the experience.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here. You’re out there reading and learning from others (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading my posts). Sometimes, however, we need that reminder to keep vigilant and protect ourselves from our own DKE.
Sometimes we also need permission to go out there and remind our fellow retailers there is a world of information available, and the strength of your individual business will rely on how much of that information you acquire and use.
(Yes, that is a request that you share this blog and the other stuff you read with others.)
PS One other way to keep DKE at bay is to be in a constant state of learning. Some people believe “training” only happens to new staff. Teach them what they need at first and let them go from there. Some people instead create a culture of learning not only for themselves but for their staff. One way I fostered that culture at Toy House was to give each of my staff a $150 budget each year for taking a class or attending a workshop. It didn’t have to be retail-related. It only had to keep them in a mindset of learning new things.