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…