Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Anosognosic's Dilemma 

How do you know what you do not know? Or, put differently, why are incompetent people usually surprised when you fire them, even though you have bluntly and repeatedly explained that they are not performing to the standard? Answers here.


By Blogger JPMcT, at Wed Jun 23, 04:10:00 PM:

There will be a whole raft of people in Washington who will be surprised to be voted out of office in November.  

By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Wed Jun 23, 11:23:00 PM:

In a way the first question was answered in the article: If you can ask the question, but don't know the answer, you know what you don't know. As to the reaction of just fired employees, that is really their problem to solve. If they have questions they might be on to something.

My instinct is that what we don't know is infinite, or infinite minus one, or something. So maybe knowing all that we don't know is no more important than knowing how big infinity is.

What is important, I think, is knowing the difference between what you know and what you need to know. And also knowing difference between what you think need to know, what you think you know, and what you think you know that is not true.

Good night.


By Anonymous Lycidas, at Wed Jun 23, 11:54:00 PM:

The problem of not knowing what you don't know is a very common problem in certain areas of life - of great importance in fact-finding endeavors (law) or diagnostic endeavors (medicine). The best are aware of the possibility that they don't know what they don't know; often they try to know enough to classify the field of human knowledge about which they know nothing so they can go ask someone in that area for help.

That epistemological problem is one that should be distinguished from a very narrow subset of the problem, which is self-awareness. One can not know that one is performing at a level below what is expected, for example, because of a lack of adequate self-awareness, though if one could observe oneself in an out-of-body kind of way, one might realize it immediately.

What I find interesting about the post is the focus on performance as so easily knowable. What I observe in most employment situations is that different people (competent ones) have different ideas about what works. I first learned this about cross-examination technique as a lawyer, for example. Some supervisors make the mistake of believing that the way they know how to do it is the only way; or they tend to mix up in their minds a stylistic choice with one which is not a stylistic choice (I couldn't perform adequately if I did it that way, therefore I perceive that my employee must not be performing adequately b/c he is not doing as I would). I also am heavily of the belief that interpersonal relationships in an employment context heavily influence judgments; that many supervisors are just as dishonest with themselves about their evaluations of employees and whether it is on the merits, so to speak, as employees are clueless about their own abilities.

A good example of this proclivity is the way TH got his job: he would not have it but for his relationship with his freshman roommate. Those relationship issues are so important that many supervisors do not know when the importance of work collegiality (a merit-based approach) becomes forms of cronyism or favoritism or a stylistic preference for certain types of workers (sometimes unwittingly, because people tend to like people like themselves, and may not know that they are unaware of their own clear biases).

And of course this leaves aside the problem that some supervisors may not know that they are not communicating effectively, leaving them not knowing that they have failed to communicate the knowledge to the employee they think they would like to.

An extension of this line of thinking is Schumpeter's observation that all organizations have their elites; it is just important for those elites to change from time to time.

@ME You might read a bit on cardinal and ordinal arithmetic, if you find the possible degrees of infinity of interest.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Jun 24, 12:44:00 AM:

A good example of this proclivity is the way TH got his job: he would not have it but for his relationship with his freshman roommate.

No, I would have had the much higher paying job I turned down to work with my friend.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Thu Jun 24, 12:45:00 AM:

A shorter phrase for Anosognosic would seem to be "Active Stupid". These are the husbands who have to call a plumber to fix their weekend work, the people who bring their computer into tech support with a bad case of PEBKAC, etc.... It's not that they're stupid, or ignorant, but they are *convinced* they know better than the people who do this for a living. Brokers call them "Profit". Tech support calls them "Inlaws"  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Fri Jun 25, 06:34:00 AM:

My old high school prinicpal used to call this "Invincible Ignorance" - certainly what we refer to today as "Stuck on Stupid".

It certainly explains the 40% of people who think Obama is doing a bang-up job...  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sat Jun 26, 08:35:00 PM:

As with the paralyzed person who does not realise this, our brains quite instantly and effectively make up plausible reasons why we have done as we did. This satisfies us, and the little beep that says "there's something not quite right here" stops beeping. We don't know that we need to keep looking.

We are especially prone to this when we are applying unnecessary rules. We have framed the problem in such a way that we introduce false constraints. We believe that presidential tickets need geographic balance, and perhaps some ideological balance, until 1992, when Bill and Hil and Al and Tipper sell themselves as this sort of unified team and it works - at least in a three-way race. We believe that important legislation must be passed according to certain rules, until this crop of Democrats discovers you can do it some other way, and there is no one to stop you if you block a coupla exits.

One thing that works about competition is that it can quickly blow away misconceptions. You may not know what went wrong, but you know that something went wrong because you lost by 20 points. It doesn't occur to Americans to not merely exaggerate contact and wince, but completely make up an injury and writhe on the ground, because that's "not how the game is played," and "no one would fall for that."

For the purposes of postliberals like me, it provides some explanation how people can trust the news. They've decided that what appears in the Daily Crier or on WMSM is The News, and they believe it. Because it's the news, and that is true, and how can you not believe it?  

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?