The Illusion of competence epidemic

At Changeworks we have an interest in psychology, so we’re familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect – and you may be too – even if you haven’t heard the name. The effect is a type of cognitive bias, where people with minimal ability assume they actually have superior expertise or ability. This overestimation occurs specifically because they don’t have enough knowledge to know that they don’t have enough knowledge, which is an interesting paradox…

Is technology a problem?

Technology may exacerbate the problem. If you type a document in Word, the spell check function will alert you to spelling errors and some grammatical errors – but it won’t turn you into a persuasive and fluent writer; it will only give an illusion of competence – and having an iPhone won’t make you a photographer – or will it?

An iPhone prevents many of the classic photographic errors, it has automatic focussing and light metering; you can’t make a mistake loading or unloading a film, because it doesn’t use it. As you aren’t using up film, you can take a burst of six pictures and at least one of them should be OK (ish).

And what about weddings?

Weddings are events where many amateur photographs are taken. It wouldn’t be terribly susceptible to empirical validation, but it’s probably safe to say for most couples getting married in the autumn of 2018, the average standard of the photographs taken (and kept) by guests would be higher than the average standard of guest photographs at their parents’ wedding.

However, it’s also probably safe to suggest that at most weddings, the photographs taken by the professional photographer will still be better than those taken by most of the guests. The professional photographer will have superior kit, superior technical photographic expertise, more experience of getting wedding guests to pose: they will have done it all a hundred (or a thousand) times before: they are professional. That means they are engaged in a specialist activity as their main paid occupation, rather than as an amateur.

To be fair, some doctors are skilled amateur photographers and some photographers will be qualified in (and experienced in) first aid – but the more a doctor knows about photography, the more likely they are to be aware of their own limitations as a photographer.

Client side illusion – declining standards?

Not many experienced marketing managers would believe they could take a 30 second video on their iPhone that could be used in a TV ad., but there is a growing reluctance client side to accept the need for using professional specialists for photography, art direction, questionnaire design or copy writing.

Reading newspapers on line it’s always interesting to compare the clarity of the professional journalist’s copy with the incoherence of some of the readers’ comments below. The ability to compose clear, logical and grammatical copy is a skill which many people lack

“Democratisation of the means of creative production” sounds a positive concept – and in many ways it is. Half a generation ago in the UK, a handful of TV executives dictated what people could (and could not) see on their screens; those executives worked for BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky. Now with Facebook and You Tube, anyone with a smart phone can shoot and upload a short video- it may be exciting coverage of the last 100 meters of a bike race or it may be the back of another spectator’s head – but it can be uploaded.

That has led to the sad spectacle at some concerts, where half the audience spend their time watching the screens of their phones and making poor quality (and unauthorised) recordings, rather than experiencing the music.

This isn’t a lament for the days of manual typewriters and red phone boxes – life moves on, and overall for the better (as Steven Pinker demonstrates so effectively) – but it is a plea to respect hard won craft skills and experience (including, but not limited to, those in marketing services).

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