Kruger and Dunning; Grey and Berry

August 6th, 2017

Rarely do organizations make so many misfires as the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).  In the CSA’s war of litigations against PS Knight, they have consistently miscalculated in their legal decisions, if they calculated at all, and miscalibrated their assessments throughout.

There’s a pattern to CSA’s deliberations.  Consider….

1. In 2012, when CSA launched their first litigation against PS Knight, they didn’t bother to check their files first.  This is really, really basic due diligence, and yet they skipped it.  Had they checked, they would have found a signed legal agreement with PS Knight specifically authorizing us to do what CSA is now suing us for having done. 

2. When CSA discovered their contract, after we quoted from it in our legal response, they didn’t retract their claim.  Yes, their claim was now publicly baseless but, somehow, this reality didn’t register at CSA.

3. When they filed their first litigation, CSA claimed that that electrical laws in Canada aren’t really laws and, anyway, CSA owns our laws privately.  Both CSA claims are absurd, yet CSA’s spent millions arguing them. 

4. RestoreCSA has had some coverage and this site is read by thousands of people, each seeing the inside of a government Agency that otherwise would’ve stayed obscured.  Cumulatively, this body of research has grown into an existential risk to CSA.  Yet nobody in that Agency seems to have seen it coming, discerned where this path was leading, nor taken any steps to correct misconduct. 

A pattern of conduct this unhinged is usually a sign of ineptitude.  The separation between CSA’s words and deeds, between their capabilities and their perceptions of their capabilities, is a yawning chasm.  Yet at CSA they think they’re brilliant.

How could they be so oblivious, so routinely, and yet believe themselves to be so professional?

Dan Lyons, former Newsweek journalist and author of Disrupted, had an answer.  As Lyons reported;  “Steve Jobs used to talk about a phenomenon called a ‘bozo explosion,’ by which a company’s mediocre early hires rise up through the ranks and end up running departments.  The bozos now must hire other people, and of course they prefer to hire bozos.  As Guy Kawasaki, who worked with Jobs at Apple, puts it; ‘B players hire C players, so they can feel superior to them, and C players hire D players’.”

Remember Lisa Ebberman?  She spent her whole career at CSA, until recently (this year she got her first real job -congratulations are in order!).  At CSA she had no experience, no basis for management, yet she rose to Director of Sales and Marketing.

Ebberman is just one example, but CSA is crammed with them.  They’re running the place, they’re on the board, and they’re why CSA performs so poorly.

The American Psychological Association published a study on this phenomenon in 1999, in a paper entitled; Unskilled and Unaware of It:  How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.

The authors of the paper, Justin Kruger and David Dunning, both then of Cornell University, argued that “when people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, […], they are left with the mistaken impression that they are doing just fine. “

And CSA thinks it’s doing just fine.

The paper continues;  “Incompetent individuals, compared with their more competent peers, will dramatically overestimate their ability and performance relative to objective criteria.”
“Incompetent individuals will be less able than their more competent peers to gain insight into their true level of performance by means of social comparison information. In particular, because of their difficulty recognizing competence in others, incompetent individuals will be unable to use information about the choices and performances of others to form more accurate impressions of their own ability.”

This makes sense.  When CSA managers arrive at work, everything they see and hear, every tactile sensation, everything in the Agency’s office reinforces their impression that CSA is an atypically successful corporation, which must mean that they’re atypically capable professionals.  They don’t have objective reference points in the real world for comparison.

With all this positive reinforcement of their self image, over time they become progressively less capable of discerning their own incapability.

As Kruger and Dunning put it;  “we predicted that those who proved to be incompetent (i.e., those who scored in the bottom quarter of the distribution) would be unaware that they had performed poorly.  […]  “Indeed, across the four studies, participants in the bottom quartile not only overestimated themselves, but thought they were above-average.”
“The thing about bozos is that bozos don’t know they’re bozos,” said Lyon.  “Bozos think they’re the sh*t, which makes them really annoying but also incredibly entertaining, depending on your point of view.”

Indeed, we’ve noted some of the more amusing CSA personnel.

Consider that this is our 312th article on RestoreCSA.  One would think that after three-hundred explanatory articles and half of a decade to ponder their predicament, the CSA would have discerned that their wee war wasn’t going according to plan.  Well, no.

“One puzzling aspect of our results is how the incompetent fail, through life experience, to learn that they are unskilled.”  Kruger and Dunning went further, quoting Sullivan (in 1953) and marvelling at; “the failure of learning which has left their capacity for fantastic, self-centred delusions so utterly unaffected by a life-long history of educative events”.

But “being clueless about your own abilities is one thing,” wrote Chris Lee, but “misjudging other’s abilities is relatively more serious.”

The CSA has misjudged RestoreCSA, and that quite seriously.  Early in their war, CSA was reassuring their staff and their board that everything was under control, their case was solid, their position invulnerable, RestoreCSA was a loony bin, and we’d be run into the ground thoroughly and quickly.  And that was four years ago.

“Consistently,” said Kruger and Dunning, “the confidence with which [ignorant] people make their predictions far exceeds their accuracy rates.”

Other academics, in trying to explain these miscalibrations and “the subject’s poor estimation, zeroed in on narcissism as one of the primary correlates.”  The CSA isn’t short of narcissism.  And the correlation between narcissism and miscalibrated assessments is strong.  As one study noted, people tend to rank their own capabilities higher, the “higher they ranked on a narcissism test.”  And another study;  “We find that those who perform the worst in social judgment […] radically overestimate their relative competence.”

“On this first issue, we found that those in the lowest quartile in interpersonal sensitivity greatly overestimated their relative ability, often by as much as 40 or more percentile points.  Indeed, across our tasks, 85–90% of participants in the lowest quartile thought they were at or above average.  Thus, those who were the least sensitive in our tasks were also substantially ignorant of their limitations.”

Years of underachievement and uncorrected dissonance at CSA have a cumulative affect on management and leadership.  They reach a critical mass of critically lacking leadership.  In Lyon’s terms; the CSA is now layer upon layer of “fortified bozofication.”

Of course, evil sometimes looks like idiocy.  Grey’s Law comes to mind.  A Toronto lawyer once proclaimed his own corollary, as Berry’s Law;  “Any sufficiently advanced malice is indistinguishable from incompetence.” 

In the context of their screenplay-worthy performance, their context of tin ears and brass judgement, of Kruger and Dunning, and Grey and Berry, how do you suppose CSA personnel will react to this article? 

Well, we expect them to become angry, hostile, aggressive, and derogatory.  “We should note,” said Ames and Kammrath, “that pursuing awareness-raising interventions with narcissists may require extreme care.  Delivering feedback is almost always precarious, and particularly so with narcissists who have been described as ‘grandiose, yet fragile’ and who, when informed of failure, tend to become angry, hostile, aggressive, and derogatory.”

Yes.  We’re ready for it.