Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

If you don't know where you make your mistakes, that's your worst mistake: not knowing where your mistakes are at.
-Meek Mill

Earlier this week, I posted on my LinkedIn page about something called “The Dunning-Kruger Effect”. (Link to my LinkedIn Page). 
There are two components to The Dunning-Kruger Effect:

1. People who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence. And not only do they fail to recognize their incompetence, they’re also likely to feel confident that they actually are competent. They will also perceive themselves as superior to others.

2. Conversely, highly competent individuals may erroneously assume that tasks easy for them to perform are also easy for other people to perform, or that other people will have a similar understanding of subjects that they themselves are well-versed in.

Many parents of teenagers will suggest that their teenager is a prime example of the first component of the Dunning–Kruger effect. Their teenager believes that they are always right. The teenager cannot understand why people don’t see things their way. The teenager perceives their teachers and parents as people who are “lesser”, and therefore the teenager will choose to ignore the advice given by teachers and parents.

Another prime example of the first component of the Dunning–Kruger effect are the sports fans who call into sports talk radio. It is amazing how a fan who sees a prospect play 2 games thinks he knows more than the team's dozens of scouts, who each watch hours and hours of film on each prospect. But that is exactly what the Dunning–Kruger effect suggests, this fan sees 2 games, gains a little bit of knowledge, and now thinks he is an expert, all while ignoring and dismissing the views of those who have more knowledge and experience than he does.

So how does one ensure that they are not someone who falls into this first component of the principle? How can one be certain that they are not one of the ignorant people who is too ignorant to recognize it? (Please note, that the terms expert and ignorant are not absolute. The same person can be an expert in one area and totally ignorant in another area, and the Dunning–Kruger effect will still apply)
The answer is quite simple. A person needs to have a healthy amount of doubt. Use this doubt to get you to learn more. Use this doubt to open your ears to enable you to hear constructive criticism from others. If a person is certain that their work is the best, it leaves little room in their mind for improvement, however, if a person feels that they can improve, they will take constructive criticism much differently.

The 2nd component is also interesting, the theory that many experts believe that others possess the knowledge that they have. This can be viewed two ways. This can be viewed that experts don’t really believe that they possess any special knowledge, thereby diminishing their stature as an expert. Additionally, it can be seen that the expert expects others to know the things that they do. The latter view can cause issues.

Here is an example that I have seen with my own eye. A Rebbe will get up and give a shiur using certain yeshivishe and yiddish words assuming that the students understand what he is saying. Often there are at least a few students who don’t know what these terms mean. They then choose to remain quiet, deciding that it is better to not understand rather than reveal their lack of knowledge.

There are many more examples of this. The manager with his new employee, the new teacher with her students, doctors with patients, but there is one specific relationship that I would like to discuss within the confines of this example, and that is the husband-wife relationship. There is a lot of knowledge that the husband has that the wife doesn’t. Likewise there is a lot of knowledge that the wife possesses that the husband doesn’t have. At some point in the marriage, the wife might learn that her husband doesn’t know how to sew a button, and the husband might learn that his wife doesn’t know what to do when the circuit breaker keeps switching off.  These revelations might be a shock to the one with the knowledge. Sometimes these revelations will lead to questions like “You really don’t know how to do something as simple as sew a button?” which can then lead to harsh feelings between the couple.

In reality the one who has the knowledge can’t allow this to turn into a shalom bayis issue.

The Dunning–Kruger effect states that the issue is NOT that the wife doesn’t know what to do if the circuit breaker keeps switching off. The issue is that her husband expects her to know. The husband needs to calm himself by reminding himself that he is the expert, and the expert often mistakenly believes that others possess the knowledge of the expert, when they don’t. Once the husband is able to realize where the problem lies, he has no reason to ridicule and insult his wife for her lack of knowledge.

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages who are looking to improve their awareness and their social skills. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.  
You can email Yisroel at 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Catalysts for Change

This was originally intended as a post on my LinkedIn account, but it exceeded the character limit. 
Feel free to follow me on LinkedIn

Every action causes a reaction.

No, I'm not talking about one of Newton's laws of physics, I'm talking about how our minds work.

We see something, we hear something (let's refer to this as a catalyst) and we react. Granted not all reactions are equal. Sometimes our reaction is as small as a simple facial gesture, while sometimes the reaction is much stronger, one that makes us reevaluate the situation and attempt to change it.

This brings me to a pet-peeve of mine. 
Your response to the catalyst doesn't need to directly relate to the catalyst. 
If the catalyst opens your eyes to another issue, and you attempt to repair that other issue, that's fine too. 
It's actually better than fine, cause it means that you can think more broadly, you are not limited by "what happened HERE and what can we do to prevent THIS?".
Instead, your thought process is:
"An event just took place, therefore let me evaluate not just THIS event, but other potential events".

Let me explain with the following real life example: 
In 2007 minor league baseball coach Mike Coolbaugh was hit just below his ear by a batted ball, he died as a direct result of this.
The next year, major and minor league baseball mandated that all coaches who are on the field during play must wear helmets. 
Helmets that neither cover the ear, nor the area below the ear.
A helmet that had Mr Coolbaugh been wearing it wouldn't have saved his life.
But baseball realized that leaving coaches (who are often much older than the players), who are standing close to the batter unprotected is both unwise and unsafe.

As a parent, many things will make you question the status quo. 
Many catalysts will get your attention and cause a reaction. 
If the reaction is for the betterment of your child, go with it. 
Never-mind that your reaction might not have made a difference in the case of the catalyst.
That doesn't make you some type of hypocrite. 
It doesn't make you over protective.
It makes you a good parent who is always looking to learn and improve.

Sorry, but saying "Well this wouldn't have helped anyway" is being both shortsighted and reckless.
It is as if you are wearing blinders, limiting yourself to seeing only this catalyst and nothing but this catalyst.
If something needs to be improved, improve it, whether or not it would have been helpful in the case of the catalyst.

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages who are looking to improve their awareness and their social skills. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.  You can email Yisroel at

Sunday, February 11, 2018

From Knowledge to Action

Knowledge isn't power; it's potential power. Execution trumps knowledge any day of the week.
-Tony Robbins

Knowledge is a smoker knowing that smoking cigarettes is very unhealthy.
Execution is a smoker quitting smoking.

The cars of the 1970s and 1980s were constructed a lot differently than the cars of today. Most of these cars were rear wheel drive vehicles, the front tires only being used to direct the car. Due to this setup, drivers were given the following instructions when driving in snow:
Steer into the skid, get your wheels aligned with the direction of the skid, and then turn out of it.

Unfortunately, just because people were taught this, just because this was a piece of knowledge that they knew, doesn't mean that they are able to execute accordingly when the scenario unfolded. Why is that? How could people so easily forget a basic lesson that could be the difference between life and death?

The answer is quite simple. Let’s put ourselves into the driver's seat of this classic car.
We are the driver, we are in control of this car. The car drives when we want it to drive, stops when we want it to stop and it goes in the direction we tell it to go. Now the car goes into a skid. We have lost the control we just had. Feelings of panic kick in. Feelings of helplessness are there too. Add in some anxiety to go along with that sick feeling inside the stomach. The car is skidding left and we need it to go right! Knowledge is telling me to go into the skid, but my intuition is telling me to steer the way I want the car to go!

Knowledge is knowing to steer into the skid, execution is taking the wheel and steering into the skid to regain control. These are two separate things. Obviously one isn't going to properly act without the knowledge, but having the knowledge doesn't mean that one will execute.

There are many reasons for this. One major reason is the failure to internalize the information being learned.
Americans are taught from a very young age to call 911 in an emergency. But how many of us sat and thought about this when we learned it? Teach a child to call 911 in an emergency, then sit there with them and discuss it. Visualize a scenario when they will need to call it. Help the child internalize the lesson, so that they are ready to act and call 911 in an actual emergency. Help them become someone who is able to act, not just someone with knowledge.

The same can be applied to parenting. There are many parents who have the knowledge of what to do, but there are times when they just can’t execute. Let’s illustrate this using sexual abuse as an example:
A child just comes to their parent and reveals that they were abused by someone who the parent knows personally (child in this example can be any age, including an adult). Here is what the parent knows:
· The facts that the child just provided
· Knowledge says that people don’t make up these things
· Knowledge says to speak to the police, and to get help for this child
· Knowledge tells the parent that the child isn't at fault for the abuse
· Knowledge tells the parent that they too might need help coping
But what about the parent’s own emotions? 
Possible emotions include:
· Anger towards the perpetrator
· Anger towards the child (note: while one shouldn't be angry at the victim, this is a perfectly normal feeling in many cases)
· Feelings of letting the child down
· The belief that one isn’t a good parent
· Stubbornness / Refusal to believe that the parent was fooled and/or groomed by the perpetrator
· Fears of possible negative responses from peers and members of the community
· Memories from previous personal traumas 
These personal emotions from the parent can block the execution of the necessary intervention.

This article is being written in response to my previous article “Shifting Gears” . I received some feedback from people who thought that the article didn't really have any useful information to them. That the general principle of the article was something they've known for quite some time, that different times require different types of intervention. My message wasn't clear enough in the previous article. One must know when to switch gears, but one must also be able to execute and actually switch them. Knowing that one needs to do something and actually doing it are not the same thing. Learn about yourself. Learn what stops you from executing the knowledge that you've acquired and learn how to hurdle over these roadblocks that stand between you and a successful execution. Learning how and when to properly execute is an important skill that can be applied to all areas of one’s life.

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages who are looking to improve their awareness and their social skills. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.  
You can email Yisroel at

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Shifting Gears

Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.
-Charles M. Schulz


Stealing a car is an offence that can result in a lengthy jail sentence for the perpetrator. The fact that the doors were unlocked prior to the theft does not make the perpetrator any less at fault for his crime. The location the car was parked prior to the theft does not change the level of guilt of the perpetrator. In short, the police and the courts do not care about how the owner of the car positioned his vehicle prior to the theft, they only focus on the fact that this car was taken unlawfully.

Just because the fault of the car theft falls squarely on the thief, doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that the car owner can do to decrease the likelihood that their car gets stolen. Locking doors, parking in a safe area, not leaving valuables in sight and an anti-theft device are all things that experts advise doing in order to protect oneself from becoming a victim of auto theft.While these and other things help reduce the odds of victimization, there is nothing a car owner can do to make themselves 100% immune from having their car stolen.

To summarize, while the car owner is never at fault for having their vehicle stolen there are things that they can and should do to decrease their likelihood of victimization.

The are two separate types of discussions to have with this car owner. One is a discussion whilst they are still in possession of their vehicle, and the other type is after they become a victim to theft. It is perfectly acceptable to discuss anti-theft precautions with the car owner while they are still in possession of their car. However, if they become a victim of auto theft, they need empathy and they need support. Do not go over the list of precautions to see which they did and did not follow. Do not blame the car owner for the theft of their own car. It is incumbent on the friends and family members of this victim to switch gears from what advice can we give you to help prevent this from happening to a gear of empathy and support, the gear where the car owner is never at fault for being the victim of theft. People who fail to switch gears will end up blaming the owner for the theft of their own car.

The reverse can also be an issue. There are some people who are too quick to apply the principle that it is never the fault of the car owner for the theft of their own car. If the car owner thinks that they are never at fault for the theft the second they become the owner of the car, it could very well inhibit their decision making process. Why should I lock my doors? It won’t be my fault if it gets stolen! is an example of the type of thought process exhibited by someone who has switched gears too soon.

One should try to apply the following rule: The fact that it isn’t my fault doesn’t mean that I can’t exhibit proper precautions, and the fact that I can exhibit proper precautions, doesn’t mean it is my fault (even if I didn’t apply the precautions!).

The topic chosen to prove the point about switching gears was auto theft. But there is another very applicable topic that can be used in place of auto theft, and that is sexual assault. Everything said above can be said about sexual assault, whether it be the sexual assault of an adult or child sex abuse, the previous message still applies in its entirety. It is not the fault of the victim that the assault took place. It is never the fault of the victim that a sexual assault took place. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are things that can be done to decrease the likelihood of victimization. Parents, advisors and friends need to know when switch gears. It is okay to tell someone not to take a drink that they didn’t see poured, it is not ok to blame a victim for taking a drink they didn’t see poured. It is ok to tell your child not to spend time with a certain person, but don’t blame them for not listening to you when they come to reveal abuse at the hands of this person.

One of the most harmful phrases that can be said to a victim is: “I TOLD YOU SO!!” Talking about the things the victim didn’t do, that had they done it, would have decreased the likelihood of being assaulted, is akin to saying “I told you so”. Make sure that you have switched gears. One must speak with a victim, any type of victim, differently. If you don’t have this gear, make sure that you assist the victim in facilitating help from people who have this gear. If you don’t have the correct gear, make sure you never discuss the abuse while you are in the wrong gear.

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages who are looking to improve their awareness and their social skills. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.  
You can email Yisroel at