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Is your boss an idiot?

Backspin By , Network World
July 01, 2012 06:10 AM ET

Network World - "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." -- Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense, Feb. 12, 2002

"One who knows and knows that he knows ... His horse of wisdom will reach the skies. / One who knows, but doesn't know that he knows ... He is fast asleep, so you should wake him up! / One who doesn't know, but knows that he doesn't know ... His limping mule will eventually get him home. / One who doesn't know and doesn't know that he doesn't know ... He will be eternally lost in his hopeless oblivion!" -- Ibn Yamin, a 13th-century Persian-Tajik poet

"It is one of the essential features of such incompetence that the person so afflicted is incapable of knowing that he is incompetent. To have such knowledge would already be to remedy a good portion of the offense." -- "Humiliation: And Other Essays on Honor, Social Discomfort, and Violence" by William Ian Miller, Thomas G. Long, professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School

Is your boss an idiot? Do you see her or him as incompetent, ineffectual, and inept? The real world equivalent of Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss? A positive force for not getting $#!+ done and undoing the $#!+ that was done?

LESSONS LEARNED: Trashing the boss online still a bad idea, but ...

Now, before we go any further, let's see what you think of your boss ... got to and take the "Network World Backspin Management Idiocy Survey."

It's OK, we'll wait for you ...

Ah, you're back. So, while you might blame his or her lack of competency on his or her age, gender, ethnicity, alcohol consumption, or from being dropped on his or her head when they were a child, there's another factor that you might not be aware of ... your boss's incompetency may be due to the lack one important ability: metacognition.

Metacognition (also called "metamemory," "metacom-prehension," or "self-monitoring skills") is "the ability to know how well one is performing, when one is likely to be accurate in judgment, and when one is likely to be in error."

This definition comes from a fascinating paper from 1999 titled "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments" by Justin Kruger and David Dunning of the Department of Psychology at Cornell University published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (one of my family's favorite reads).

As a fine example of incompetency, the paper relates a story that defies belief: "In 1995, McArthur Wheeler walked into two Pittsburgh banks and robbed them in broad daylight, with no visible attempt at disguise. He was arrested later that night, less than an hour after videotapes of him taken from surveillance cameras were broadcast on the 11 o'clock news. When police later showed him the surveillance tapes, Mr. Wheeler stared in incredulity. 'But I wore the juice,' he mumbled. Apparently, Mr. Wheeler was under the impression that rubbing one's face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to videotape cameras."

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