Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Wearing the Juice

My brother, who is not to be underestimated, sent me a link to a psychology journal article about people who are so incompetent at a given task that they don’t even know they’re incompetent. Apparently, there are certain ‘meta’ skills, such as self-awareness, that can only be present in the company of a basic level of technical awareness. Absent that, people make mistakes like:

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. (source)


As a manager, this is physically painful to read. When people have shortcomings of which they’re aware, it’s possible to train them. When they have shortcomings of which they’re unaware, several possibilities exist:

- they never thought of it, they’re glad to have it pointed out, they’ll get right on it
- they never thought of it, they don’t consider it important, please go away now
- they deny it and move on
- they indignantly deny it, dig in their heels, and question your motives

You’ll notice that three of these four possibilities are negative.

The last response, which is the most common, is also the most frustrating. It casts the manager as the villain and the underperforming employee as the victim in a bizarre psychodrama.

It’s worse when you’re relatively new to the scene, you’ve inherited the employee, and the previous managers all pretended not to see him when he wore the juice. Now, in addition to tweaking insecurities, you’re also breaking precedent. What a horrible person you are! How dare you?

Now imagine that the juice-wearer in question has tenure. And a litigious temperament.

I think I need something a little stronger than juice…

I don't envy you. I've often wondered about incompetent people myself and whether or not they realize how incompetent they are. It's one of my greatest fears that I'm actually incompetent and don't know it. I think by having that fear, it can't possibly come true, but it doesn't completely eliminate the fear anway.
Lots of people threaten to sue over all kinds of sh*t, and while some of their threats may seem to be serious, I'd wager that 95%+ would not be viewed as "actionable" by any competent lawyer.

"Actionable" means, roughly, "worthy of litigating." And that decision can be based on umpteen factors, but the primary one is usually financial. Can the client pay? If not, and the case is taken on a contingency basis, is there a significant probability of payola?

Now of course, there are hungry, inexperienced lawyers who will take a case that someone more seasoned would pass on. So I'm not suggesting you blow off every threat of a lawsuit. But if someone is frequently suggesting they need to resort to a lawsuit in order to solve problems with their dean, they probably could use a reality check.

Next time they hint at dropping the L-(lawsuit)-bomb, offer to refer an attorney. In my experience, people who threaten to sue usually have no idea what it means to sue someone and have never consulted a lawyer to find out how lame their case really is.
Maybe this just says something about the fact that I'm in the midst of the end-of-semester grading press, but I can't help but read this post and think, not about faculty but students, specifically first-year students in my composition classes. It helps to explain that age-old question: when I pointed out this problem on their first essay, and again on their second essay, and again on their third essay and then had a conference with them and explained at some length why they were doing it incorrectly and how to correct it, why oh why did they insist on doing it again on their fourth essay?
Scrivener - I guess those students really, really have faith in the juice!
I'm an attorney myself, and while I agree with what the other "anonymous" said above, I have to point out that nobody likes being sued. Even if it's clear from the start that the claim is completely without merit, it can be an ordeal for the defendant. Where the defendant is a community college, I would imagine a lawsuit (even if ultimately dismissed) would hurt employee morale and create a public relations headache.
I sympathize with your predicament. It doesn't sound like this juice wearer will ever be receptive to feedback.
Hi Dean Dad, Can you post the link to the article? Thanks, Professor Mom
Hi, i need your help in doing a survey about blogging for my Master's thesis. Would it be alright for you to give me your email so i can send it to you? Your help would greatly aid my thesis.

Thank You
I tried posting the link to the article in the parentheses after it; I've had mixed luck getting it to work, though.

My email is ccdean(at)myway(dot)com.
The article was "Unskilled and Unaware of It," by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1999, vol 77, no 6, 1121-1134.
If you're accessing the article from work, your institution may have some kind of subscription so that people from your campus (i.e., using a certain range of IP addresses) can access it. From home, it probably won't work.
If you're accessing the article from work, your institution may have some kind of subscription so that people from your campus (i.e., using a certain range of IP addresses) can access it. From home, it probably won't work.
The inverse relationship between how well students think they know algebra and how well they do know algebra is well known and the bain of science education.

Nothing new here
The same article can be found here.
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