Meet my boy Reacher. He’s an Entlebucher (it’s OK, almost no one’s heard of the breed). As I write this he’s not quite 10 months old. He’s joy in my life. And he’s a busy, high-energy handful.
But it’s OK, I’m a “dog guy.”
I’ve trained 1 extraordinary dog, 1 great dog and 1 pretty average dog (plus Beau the Corgi who has never really been my dog). All my dogs were Labradors.
The extraordinary dog, Fitch, was nearly world-class. He and I did competitive agility and obedience trials, plus retriever trials in some very cool places with very cool people.
I was “someone” in the dog world because of Fitch.
Through the years, I’ve had lots of people ask me dog questions. Everything from training to behavior to breeds. I’ve answered them honestly and confidently. I am after all a pretty successful dog trainer.
Reacher taught me otherwise.
He’s is a different animal in every way.
He likes to bump you when he’s roaming around (whoa, none of the retrievers did that). Just a little nudge here and there. He likes to slip in between your legs when you’re walking (strange and alarming). He can play tug all day long. All. Day. Long.
He’s nothing at all like any of the Labs.
That’s a duh, he’s a cattle herding dog not a retriever.
It turns out that’s no small distinction. Among many other differences, where my Labs really wanted to know what I want them to do. Reacher wanted to know if I’m really the boss and then he’s happy to do whatever. But let’s be sure about that “boss-thing” first. Yet, he’s very soft hearted.
Also, Reacher cannot stand for me (or “his” people) to be out of his sight. Definitely not “Lab” behavior.
So when Reacher was a puppy, and I was discovering that he wasn’t at all like any of my other dogs, I realized I needed some help. In his earliest days with us, nothing was working with this puppy. Even I wasn’t all that impressed with my training.
I had to do something.
The Google reconnected me to one of my favorite dog training resources, an author that I love. I was refreshing my memory and relearning some of my training behaviors. It’s true that most bad dog behaviors really are rooted in the people, not the dog. I was the one not doing things right. Reacher was doing fine.
And as part of that process I stumbled across the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
It’s not a dog thing, it’s a Cognitive Bias. It’s about you and me. And it knocked me over.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the difference between someone’s self-perceived skill level and their objective skill level.
In a nutshell, researchers Dunning and Kruger found that the people who are less skilled are likely to over-estimate their own skill level, often drastically.
Did you get that? The more low skilled I am the more likely I am to overrate my ability.
The author was making the point that many people who think they’re good dog trainers have succumbed to the Dunning-Kruger Effect because they haven’t really trained that many dogs . . . and they don’t even realize it. They think they’re AWESOME dog trainers. And they’re not.
Oh man. Turns out I’m not a great dog trainer. I’ve had a couple of really good dogs and done really well with one of them. I had to adjust my view and learn more.
So why are we talking about Reacher and dog training?
I bring this up because of how often smart people in the nonprofit and ministry space fall victim to Dunning-Kruger:
- A brilliant board member who really knows the tax code and accounting thinks that translates into marketing expertise.
- A skilled journalist moves into the development department and is sure that a journalistic voice is what’s missing from your fundraising copy.
- A great administrative assistant is sure that they know what’s been missing from marketing your nonprofit or ministry because they’re pretty savvy.
Dunning-Kruger is a dangerous thing. It can cause good leaders to making bad decisions. It can lead good leaders to listen to the wrong voices. After all those suffering with Dunning-Kruger are usually very certain.
I’ll leave it at that.
Oh, and Reacher? Once I figured him out, he’s doing awesome. I’m still not a great dog trainer, but he’s a great dog. And we’re learning together.
What about you? Have you ever seen Dunning-Kruger in play at your work? I’d enjoy hearing what you’re thinking.