Everyone is Above Average

Quick question: on a scale of one (low) to five (high) how would you rank your own driving ability relative to the other drivers in your area?  If you are like most people, you probably rank yourself as a very good driver, definitely better than most people on the road.  When scientists researched this question, one study found that 74% of all drivers thought they were above average.  One possible reason for this statistically impossible result is the Illusory Superiority fallacy, also known as the Lake Wobegon Effect.

lakewobegondaysIllusory Superiority is a cognitive bias whereby individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities relative to others.  It is sometimes called the Lake Wobegon Effect after Garrison Keller’s fictional home town in Minnesota where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”  The trap with this fallacy is that it prevents people from seriously examining their own skills and thus overlooking opportunities for growth. From a personal development standpoint, the Illusory Superiority fallacy can be a barrier to self-improvement on many fronts.

Avoiding this fallacy is tricky, but not impossible.  One path forward is to find measurable benchmarks that personal performance can be judged against, such as national or local averages.  Another approach is to seek non-bias feedback from peers, for example in the form of a 360 review.  Either way, developing a critical eye regarding your own performance opens up avenues for personal improvement that may not have been recognized before.

Now excuse me while I listen to old episodes of A Prairie Home Companion

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