A new comprehensive report out of Cornell and Stanford reinforces my Talking Point #1: Self-Knowledge is the most important skill (trait?) one can acquire. The report also reminds us that we almost always overestimate our abilities, skill, reputation, etc. and therefore our self-knowledge is often skewed dramatically in a positive direction. I think this is a good thing. There’s nothing more annoying than meeting someone who doesn’t believe in himself or doesn’t think she’s up to snuff as a person. Self-confidence is such a huge divider between the extraordinary and the merely normal, I think. Love thyself, know thyself.
Benjamin Franklin wrote in his 1750 Poor Richard’s Almanac that "There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self." The problem of achieving accurate self-knowledge hasn’t gotten any easier in 250 years; and, as shown in a new research report, there are major real-world consequences to this very human attribute.
In "Flawed Self-Evaluation: Implications for Health, Education, and the Workplace," investigators David Dunning (Cornell), Chip Heath (Stanford), and Jerry M. Suls (University of Iowa) summarized current psychological research on the accuracy (or rather inaccuracy) of self-knowledge, across a wide range of studies in a range of spheres. Their report is published in the December 2004 issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the American Psychological Society.
A consistent and sobering picture emerged from the team’s analysis: On the job, at school, or even in managing our own health, it is as though we all live in Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, "where all the children are above average." People’s opinions of themselves, their abilities, and their health outlooks are generally skewed quite strongly in a positive direction.