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Learn from me: a Dunning-Kruger expert

Left side: I am a Dunning-Kruger expert. Right side: the dunning-kruger chart, with an arrow pointing to the leftmost peak that is labeled 'Its ya boy'.

You may have heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect - people with limited knowledge overestimate their abilities when compared to those with more know-how. We've all experienced it in one form or another.

Passionate people often mistake their newfound passion for expertise, which can lead to some pretty bad decisions.

Recognizing my own ignorance is useful when viewed as a two-way street. There are things in this world that I feel comfortable sharing my expertise for. I am also wrong all the time -- and I'm okay with that, as long as I can learn from people who know better than I do.

So, is it possible to flip Dunning-Kruger on its head, and use it to build momentum?

By honing in on the fact that you don't know it all, and making a conscious effort to seek out and listen to experts, you have the opportunity to build on your own knowledge and expertise. By recognizing your own ignorance, you can use the Dunning-Kruger effect to propel your career and business forward.

Here's a concrete example: I've got some background in design, and a little bit of background in engineering (true story: I have an undergrad degree in Mechanical Engineering that has gone largely unused since 2009). For a while, I've been mulling over the idea of designing Open Source, flat-pack furniture that could be cut from a single piece of plywood. Sounds cool, right?

A render of a flat pack table, and a diagram showing how it was cut from one piece of plywood.
Flat pack furniture, laser cut from a single piece of plywood. Image from Instructables.

I've got a few ideas, and I've been doing some research, but I'm not an expert in furniture design. I'm not an expert in woodworking. I'm not an expert in small batch manufacturing.

I'm just a dude who is excited about an idea, and I have a lot of questions.

I spent a few hours scouring the web for people smarter than me (spoiler alert: there are many of them). From there I found /r/hobbycnc and /r/woodworking, where I can learn from experienced makers and woodworkers. Instructables has an article series on flat pack furniture, and there's endless youtube reviews of home CNC machines on YouTube.

Now that I've found places where experts are sharing their domain knowledge, I can start to listen, ask questions, take notes, and follow heated conversations. Before long, I may be ready to execute on my idea, or I may decide to pivot and make changes that better suit my expertise and situation.

This is something you can apply to any problem space. The best product builders are those who see the world through their own expertise and the expertise of others, to build something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

It's also important to be prepared for the Dunning-Kruger effect to show up again. As you continue to learn, stay tapped into the community. Be mindful of your perceived level of expertise, and the potential mistakes that come with that knowledge.

Finally, when you do find yourself in the position to share your expertise, do so with humility. It is so powerful to be wrong on the internet, and it's even more powerful to be wrong and admit it.

There are things I think I know

  • 💼 The cat's out of the bag... at least a little bit. Last week I started listing my new job on my various profiles on line. I'm working on a new company called Craftwork. I'm working with an outrageously talented team on making it easier for homeowners to get their houses painted... and that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you know any full-stack engineers who love TypeScript and react... I'm hiring!

  • 🫶 I'm speaking at the first ever Charlotte Open Source Meetup this Thursday (Jan 26) at 6pm. The topic is Unlocking the Power of Open Source to Launch Your Startup and Career - not-at-all hyperbolic. Hope to see you there!

  • 🎙️ A new APIs You Won't Hate podcast is live! Funding Open Source, with Dudley Carr from Stack Aid was a great conversation with a new friend I met at All Things Open last fall in Raleigh. We talked about the importance of funding open source projects, and how Stack Aid is helping to do just that. Check it out!

...and the things other people know

  • 📚 "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman is a must-read, continuing the pattern of sharing books I love. It explores two modes of thought (fast and intuitive vs slow and reasoned) which appear time and again in decision making and cognitive science.

  • 🎥 @nolanperk is a skilled designer and TikTok creator who shares beautifully-made, thoughtful design tips on his account. Ever wonder how to make font sizes feel just right on your app? Look no further.

  • 🎙️ The Happiness Lab, with Dr. Laurie Santos is a podcast that explores the science of happiness... that's right, the science of happiness. It turns out that personal happiness is something we can study, measure, and quantify. It's an occasional listen for me, and I always learn something.


Thanks for reading Tiny Improvements. If you found this helpful, I'd love it if you shared this with a friend. It helps me out a great deal.

Until next time - be excellent to each other!

Learn from me: a Dunning-Kruger expert

Drawing on the Dunning-Kruger Effect to propel tech progress is like using a slingshot to travel into space: Leaving our comfort zone to learn from experts gives us the momentum to break through boundaries and break records.



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