Confident Idiots

Loved this article in the Pacific Standard today on ignorance and expertise. It’s worth reading as an instrument to improve your “bull-shit detector”.

Confident experts have always bothered me. Not because of their confidence per se, but because of the obvious lack of self-consciousness their confidence implies. And when people can’t think about their thinking, they often miss the big parts of the problem they’re trying to solve.

Confident people don’t bother me because I’m an introverted person. Or because I lack confidence and they make me look bad. Or even because I’m jealous (well, maybe a little because I’m jealous).

They bother me because they’re usually wrong in the long-term, but everyone thinks they sound right in the short-term.

And this is dangerous for companies.

It’s the reason why my favorite question is “how do you know that?” (thanks Edward Tufte). While contrary to most people’s belief, I tend to distrust confidence, to a point. The more confident a person seems in their response, or the more expertise or authority they have, the more cautious I am to agree.

Appropriate skepticism is healthy, and if an expert bristles at a dilettante poking holes in even the most well-reasoned argument, there’s something wrong.

So beware of confidence. It can make idiots of the best of us.


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