I May Be Wrong Now, But I Don’t Think So

by Randy Murray on August 27, 2010

Randy Newman is one of my favorite popular songwriters and performers. And a line from one of his songs sticks with me this week as I write about the role of skepticism and science in our personal lives. It’s from his theme song for the TV show “Monk” called “It’s a Jungle Out There.” I’ve used it in the title of this piece. My usage doesn’t refer to the character of Mr. Monk, who is both highly intelligent and competent, but it resonates with my thoughts on doubt.

Doubt is an important tool and an indicator for the intelligent person. While too much doubt can become interlaced with fear and become crippling, a little doubt is a good sign.

If you live your life without doubt, it’s a very bad sign. There’s a cognitive bias that can be boiled down to this: incompetent people think they’re smarter and know more than they do.

It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Even Charles Darwin wrote about it, saying, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

According to Dunning and Kruger, incompetent people:

  1. Overestimate their own skills.
  2. Don’t recognize real skills in others.
  3. Don’t see how incompetent they really are.

But there is hope. With training most of us, although initially incompetent at a skill, can begin to develop a clearer picture of our own capabilities.

Doubt can be a very useful tool for you. If you’re filled with doubt, redouble your training and study. Learn how to rank your own competence and capabilities. And test yourself. If you have no doubt, you’re probably wrong about something, overestimating your own abilities. That’s a sign to stop and check your facts, think about things, and seek more help or training. Then get out there and try, fail, get better.

I’ve experienced this in my own life. When I was young I used to enjoy singing and acting in plays, so much so that I pursued it in college. I thought I was terrific and leading man material. But I found that I was consistently cast in comic or supporting roles where I’d receive high praise. It took me several years of training and development as an actor to realize that I simply wasn’t very good at those leading roles that I thought I deserved. As my skills blossomed I was more able to rank my own talents and those of others. And because of that I became a passable director and a more than capable writer.

You can do this. I have no doubt about that.

  • Share/Bookmark
The I May Be Wrong Now, But I Don’t Think So by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Leave a Comment

Previous post: