What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. – Charles Darwin.

In the Art of War, Chinese military theorist and general, Sun Tzu claims that if you know yourself and know the enemy, you win every battle. If you know yourself and not the enemy, you win half. If you know the enemy and not yourself, you win none. It sounds like knowing yourself is highly correlated with success.

I know a person who worked for a major accounting/consulting firm. He worked in the customer relationship management section. One of their findings was quite amazing.

Many consultants like to work with the study of contrasts. Find the unexpected and build from there. The expected is usually not fruitful. In this case, they were studying customer satisfaction at a major bank.

They created the contrast by doing two surveys. The first was to survey bank personnel to discover how they expected customer satisfaction to be. It involved offered services, pricing, convenience, skill of the people, and hours of service. Bank personnel estimated that customers would be about 80% satisfied when they were asked about the same things.

The customers were then surveyed. And the consultants found the other 20% of the satisfaction.

The disturbing part was that the expectation was so far away from reality that the engagement died. The bank chose to disbelieve their customers response rather than to take actions that might might have brought their own delusional beliefs closer to reality.

If people believe they are doing a good job and they are not, your first step should be to reorient them. There are ways to do that.

In 2000, the Ig Nobel Prize (Worth your trouble to look these prizes up.  They are wonderful) in psychology went to David Dunning and Justin Kruger for their work in this very area. Dunning-Kruger Effect They found that unskilled people mistakenly rate their ability much higher than average.    Because ——-  they do not know enough to recognize their mistakes.  The solution as always – education and training.

Skilled people have the opposite problem. They underestimate their value because they expect everyone knows what they know.

We are not usually objective enough about our own performance to decide the answer. If you think that in your business, there is a disconnect between beliefs and reality, do a survey or just pay attention and ask questions.

Sometimes you will find the staff is not doing what the customers need and other times you will find the reward system is working at cross purposes. People are doing what the boss wants, not what the customer wants. In the latter case revisit the internal management system. Sometimes the source of incompetence in respect to customers is fairly far up the management tree.

Reality is easier to deal with than delusions. At least reality behaves a little bit rationally.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. don.s@protectorsgroup.com

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