The Incompetence Paradox

Have you ever had the experience where someone around you is clearly incompetent but appears totally oblivious to their deficiencies?

Perhaps it’s a work colleague who consistently makes mistakes on tasks but refuses to change their behavior. Or perhaps it’s a restaurant server who makes mistakes on your order but refuses to acknowledge any error. Not only are these people seemingly incompetent, but they’re also incompetent at recognizing their incompetence.

Why people fail to recognize their incompetence

In a 2003 study titled, ‘Why people fail to recognize their own incompetence,’ researchers from Cornell University and the University of Illinois found that “people fail to recognize their own incompetence because that incompetence carries with it a double curse.”

According to the psychologists, “the skills needed to produce correct responses are virtually identical to those needed to evaluate the accuracy of one’s responses… Thus, if people lack the skills to produce correct answers, they are also cursed with an inability to know when their answers, or anyone else’s, are right or wrong.”

Could the incompetence curse extend to businesses and brands?

By extension, it would make sense that businesses and brands, like the people who manage them, may also experience the incompetence curse; with the most incompetent businesses and brands lacking the skills necessary to even recognize their incompetence.

Lehman Brothers? George Bush? General Motors? To quote from the study, “everyone knows people who just seem to accept their deficiencies… Perhaps these individuals ‘accept’ their deficiencies because they're unaware they have them.”