You’re too clever by half
You’re too clever by half
Intelligent people are less likely to be able to detect their own bias blind spots

By Ross Martin, Management Consultant at Hive Business

No one likes know-it-alls and bullies, which is why humility goes a long way in a leader. There’s another reason too: intelligent people — and let’s assume that dentists and practice owners are high percentile — find it harder to see their own biases.

We all have biases. In psychology, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people think their cognitive ability is greater than it is. Social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger studied the real case of a man who robbed two banks without covering his face. He used lemon juice instead, which he thought made him invisible and gave him complete confidence because he wasn’t very bright.

It’s an extreme and obviously comical example, but the Dunning-Kruger effect has been found everywhere, persistently, including in the well educated. The education scholar Kathryn Patricia Cross sampled a set of academics and found 90% thought they were better than average at teaching. Novices (most notoriously new drivers) may think they have mastered a new skill or understood something complicated but eventually they begin to see how little they know. Over time they may regain some confidence, but experience always produces humility.

People naturally assume that everyone else is more susceptible to thinking errors, a tendency known as the bias blind spot. This ‘meta-bias’ is rooted in our ability to spot systematic mistakes in the decisions of others that we just can’t do for ourselves. Even Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel prize in this field, has admitted that his own intuitive thinking remains as overconfident and unreliable as it was before he studied these issues.

There’s no escape. Studies have shown that intelligent people are less likely to be able to detect their own bias blind spots, so if you assume that you are more intelligent than most people and you’re right, it means you are more likely to be overconfident in your knowledge and abilities in some other way.

So as a business owner you are running a significant risk of becoming your own worst enemy. What can save you? Self awareness. A simple and powerful technique that helps people better understand themselves is called the Johari window. It’s a grid with two columns and two rows. The columns are “known to self” and “not known to self”, and the rows are “known to others” and “not known to others”.

When you accept that all human beings, even the most intelligent, have blind spots and facades — that it’s a feature of how we’re built — you can begin to make serious improvements to your life. This is about humility; clinicians who become business leaders often assume they are ‘doing’ leadership by dint of the fact that they are incumbent, and in a way they have to to keep going, but many later discover that it wasn’t leadership at all, and they wish they had noticed this earlier because they have paid a high price for it financially and emotionally.

If you’d like to skip that part we can supply cross-disciplinary oversight that isn’t available anywhere else in the dental sector. We’ll essentially be a business partner that watches out for your blind spots, provides emotional support and brings expertise to bear across strategy, business advice, marketing, management, finances and tax. It saves and makes our clients — especially the ones who are humble, open and honest — a lot of money.

Ross Martin
By Ross Martin Management Consultant
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