The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Let us begin by stating the Dunning-Kruger Effect – ‘Blind optimism and hustle will kill you.’ Now let’s dive a bit deeper. Say, you wanted to be a surgeon and are selling a heart transplant operation. The patient is ready, and you are all gung-ho about the operation. Would you perform the surgery? Of course, not! You need experience, right?
The inspiration for this post came from a consultant friend asking me how they should go about selling services she’d never done before. Naturally, she was afraid. She was expecting encouragement to advance and close the deal. Instead, I told her to first get experience performing that procedure numerous times before trying to do it by herself.
Most people attack problems by summoning courage– channeling their inner “Tony Robbins”– hoping that optimistic action will lead to success. They’ve read about the “Imposter Syndrome” and watched too many seasons of “The Voice”, where that expert, singer, or comedian has a massive win just because they stepped out into the light. So, if you think confidence is an answer, look up the Dunning-Kruger Effect – it will forever change your perspective and change your life.
Let’s Accept Digital Marketing is Complex
Much like most elements of our modern society, digital marketing is quite complex. There’s no way one can assess someone’s expertise in the hundreds of thousands of fields of study.
Even in running my small digital marketing agency, there’s hardly a way that I can keep up with the latest changes in Google Ads, learning management systems, marketing automation, and such latest technological changes. There are so many verticals even in just the narrow area of Facebook ads – the type of lead generation that differs from one profession to another.
So, when we are unable to evaluate true competency, we consider perceived authority. We also consider how we can expand our perceived authority. An example of this is my co-founder, Logan Young (pictured below), being interviewed on CNN about the latest controversy with Facebook ads. One can’t say for sure if he is a pro at Facebook ads. Nor is the TV anchor well-versed enough to tell – he’s going to cover a bombing, stock market, and politics – all in the next 5 minutes after Logan’s interview.
Full disclosure: I was the one who put him on TV and since his fame, he got poached by a client.
From CNN Worldwide, 2018: Logan Young on Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress
So, let’s face it – we are living in an age of information overload, wherein there is literally 1,000 times more information than you could possibly consume to make an educated choice. So, in perceived authority decisions are made by association and heuristic.
There is literally 1,000 times more information than you could possibly consume to make an educated choice.
Perceived Authority and Decision Making
In perceived authority decisions are made by association and heuristic. It is authority and not fakery that drives the algorithm. I lost my iPhone charging cable recently and had to buy a new one. So, I went to Amazon and found it – the first choice below.
I remember spending over an hour looking at iPhone cables– various lengths, types of cables, prices, single versus 3 packs, and so forth. A trivial purchase occupied an hour of my time. The one I bought has 9,131 reviews plus enough information that it would take me months to read them all.
Last time you bought something on Amazon, how many reviews were there on all the various products you looked at? I remember spending over an hour looking at iPhone cables– various lengths, types of cables, prices, single versus 3 packs, and so forth. A trivial purchase occupied an hour of my time. The one I bought has 9,131 reviews plus enough information that it would take me months to read them all.
Because of this pesky thing called the Dunning-Kruger Effect– read this 5 part article from the New York Times on it, yes– it’s worth reading right now), people grossly overestimate their competency.
Information Overload Needs Competence
So, let’s face it – we are living in an age of information overload. When the pool of information was a bathtub, we could comfortably soak and relax in it– maybe put in some bubble bath. When it became a swimming pool, we put on our goggles and could still touch the bottom with our toes, even in the deep end.
But when the pool of information is so vast that we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we can no longer bob and have our toes touch the bottom. It’s a scary place at the bottom of the Marianas Trench at 36,070 feet down– the deepest part of the ocean.
Walking on hot coals and repeating self-affirmations alone will not bring you safely on this expedition or a successful outcome to your attempted heart operation. Being on CNN will not give you world-class expertise in digital marketing, though your friends will be impressed.
You need competence and an ability to make meaningful connections. And that comes from experience– studying checklists and performing an operation repeatedly, like doctors do in medical school on cadavers, before living patients.
Snake Oil Salesmanship Will Always Give Way to Respected, Documented Practice
Today, someone in a group was asking for recommendations for a Facebook ads expert. Minutes later, a dozen recommendations came in– people nominating friends as well as themselves. But not one knew what issue this lady had or what type of business she was in.
If you needed someone to remove your spleen for whatever reason, certainly a podiatrist or dentist wouldn’t be the right specialist– not even if was the best cardiologist on the planet. Our world of digital marketing feels a lot more like a circus than a hospital, where clowns with rainbow hair are asking you to “step right up!”, trying to shout louder than all the other clowns and bearded ladies.
At some point, snake oil will give way to respected, documented practice. If you were meeting with your doctor in the examination room, how would you feel if he acted like a carnival barker– peddling buy-one, get-one-free surgeries, today only. If you’re getting lasik, wouldn’t you prefer the calm practitioner who has done it 5,000 times without incident, such that it’s routine and mundane?
Consider how a systematic process of metrics to analysis to action is how marketing will eventually be when there are standards for measurement and for execution.
About the Author