Superiority Bias: Finding a Good Place to See Yourself

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70% of people believe they have above average leadership skills.[1] This effect is called the Superiority Bias. (Sometimes, it’s called The Lake Woebegone Effect, Illusory Superiority, or The Better Than Average Effect). It is one of many cognitive biases that prevent us from seeing ourselves and others clearly.

Everyone has a set of unconscious biases that support their view of the past, present, future, and how the world works. These unconscious ideas are based on our own perspectives and experiences. We believe that our own perspective is correct and applies to others the same way it works for us. This limited world view often keeps us from having a clear sense of who we are and how we can contribute.

People also hold flattering views of their own abilities. This gives us confidence where we might properly be anxious, which is good for facing the unknown. It’s less useful when trying to understand whether a particular job is a good or bad opportunity.

Superiority Bias and How It Impacts Job Interviews

In fact, many job interview processes encourage an exaggerated telling of one’s story. By focusing on ‘accomplishment’ rather than the skills we use in the process of accomplishment, interviewers effectively ask job candidates to be more boastful. This encourages Superiority Bias while setting the stage for later failure in the relationship.

In order to find a job that really suits you, you must be able to see beyond your own bias and answer the question, ‘Do I actually have what it takes to do this job?’

Even then, your Superiority Bias makes the question trickier. If you are perfectly qualified for a particular job, you are going to bore quickly. Most people who voluntarily leave their old job are seeking new jobs to find additional challenge. Smart hiring managers look for people who fill 70% to 80% of the job’s requirements in order to ensure that new hires are learning and growing.

That means that the most important thing to appraise well is your ability to enter and master new ideas and environments. This ability is called Fluid Intelligence.

your capacity to learn new information, retain it, then use that new knowledge as a foundation to solve the next problem, or learn the next new skill, and so on.”[2]

Like most skills, fluid intelligence can be measured[3] and learned.

Growing Your Fluid Intelligence

Since Fluid Intelligence is the key to being able to adapt to novel circumstances, it is critical to understand your capacity in this area. You can grow it by keeping the following principles in mind:

  1. Seek novelty
  2. Challenge yourself
  3. Think creatively
  4. Do things the hard way
  5. Network[4]

You should also identify and measure your other capabilities. Again, the Internet is a treasure trove of tests and tools. Begin by making a list of your top 15 skills and capabilities, half hard skills and half soft skills. Then find tests that measure each specific attribute.

Expect some surprises. The odds are that you are not as big a deal as you think you are. It’s likely that you are good at some things that you see as weaknesses. You probably overestimate your strengths.

It’s human.

Working to stay aware of the difference between who you think you are and what is measurably you is an important periodic discipline. In a journal, keep track of your learning. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, continuous progress based on an accurate view of yourself is more important than getting a high score.

Never stop leaning. Check out our resources to keep your mind occupied.

[1] Notes on Superiority Bias. 2007. http://biasandbelief.pbworks.com/w/page/6537222/Superiority%20Bias, from a set of working notes in the Bias and Belief Wiki.

[2] You Can Increase Your Intelligence: 5 Ways to Maximize Your Cognitive Potential, Andrea Kuszewski, Scientific American, March 7,2011, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/you-can-increase-your-intelligence-5-ways-to-maximize-your-cognitive-potential/

[3] Visual Pattern Fluid Intelligence Test, http://similarminds.com/cgi-bin/int.pl

[4] Kuszewski, Scientific American, March 7,2011

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