One of the most important theories we’ve built into our leadership framework was coined by two thought leaders in the field of cognitive psychology, Dunning and Kruger, who posited an interesting juxtaposition we think everyone should study in this time of great access to knowledge. It is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This principle of opposites is expressed in the two Tilt character patterns of Clarity, the Quiet Genius and Impact, the Change Catalyst. The idea is that a person who feels absolutely certain often feels that way because they may lack some kind of knowledge or competence. In short, they don’t yet know… how much they don’t know. When this trait-pattern is overused, they may take actions that appear quite impulsive and thoughtless to those who might know more than they do. When in balance, the person with these patterns may have a gift for seeing the future in new and different ways, so they might just be acting on a vision and no one can see it just yet. The difference between balance and overuse is an important distinction.
On the other hand, the Clarity Quiet Genius is quite the opposite. They love investigating, researching and studying, sometimes just for the sake of learning. And because they do so, they begin to comprehend the complexity of the universe of information and thus become aware of how very much there is to learn, so they “know how much they don’t know” and feel humbled as a result. In balance, this is a good thing. However, if this set of traits is overused, they may be so concerned about preparing that they never make an impact with what they DO know.
The Inevitable Dilemma of our Time
Philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) said, “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” This quote helps us understand the cognitive problem associated with extremes in either polarity of these two patterns of personality (when one is applied without the other). The Quiet Genius is filled with doubt and lacks ease with uncertainty and risk. The Change Catalyst is comfortable taking too much risk and can therefore be impulsive without doing enough research.
The Ideal becomes Obvious
Beyond black and white thinking is a more complex way of reasoning and is based in context to include both aspects of this important polarity. The most sage leader does both research & analysis PLUS acts on what they know right now, realizing there are some risks involved in any action, but confident in their ability to pivot in the case of a miscalculation or additional information. A term we like to use is “taking action based on what we know right now” while reserving the right to tweak or adjust if new information presents itself or if we become wiser at a later date. This kind of complex “gray” thinking that is not black or white, but helps great leaders embrace the polarity of opposites. Both/and….instead of either/or.
Today’s Dilemma: The Divided Team
Nowhere is this painful tension between opposites more obvious than our current political environment in the US. The more one party goes to an extreme, the more the other moves into their corner in extreme ways too. The problem of this is that divided teams don’t produce, create or innovate. They are either stagnant or chaotic and wasteful of resources instead of being contributive and generative. All of us could learn from this juxtaposition that is so painfully obvious right now. The ideal is not one or the other, but both/and, applied in the right context. We need to shift our perspective sometimes to see the evidence from a new angle.
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