Consequences and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

A while back my friend Paula asked the question, “Why do people with terrible ideas have such good follow-through?”

This was in reference to a news article in which someone followed through on a truly terrible business idea which should have obviously been a no-starter. Both Paula and I know lots of people with great ideas who never follow-through, in no small part because we know each other, and we each have great ideas with the life cycle of a fruit fly.

About a week and a half ago I got an email which casually announced that one of my intellectual icons holds an annual seminar (which was news to me) and that this year’s seminar had open spots. I desperately wanted to apply but from the very first moment of “yes, that!” I had doubts. It’s not even fair to say that my doubts were in equal measure to my desire as my doubts were far larger. Some of these doubts included:

  • Filling out the application will take time away from my dissertation.
  • I won’t get it anyway.
  • Even if I get in, I won’t be able to afford it.
  • If I find a way to pay for it it will take too much time away from my dissertation.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a bias in which people who are incompetent do not realize they are incompetent because they lack the ability to critique their performance and, therefore, wind up believing that they are superior to others.

I think the answer to the question to “Why do people with horrible ideas have such good follow-through while people with good ideas don’t?” is an as-yet unnamed corollary of the Dunning-Kruger effect that has to do with consequences. I not-so-humbly suggest we call this the Ashe-Hough effect and it is as follows:

Good people, by nature of being good people, are concerned with the consequences their ideas might have. This preoccupation with ensuring their ideas have no bad consequences prevents them from ever following through. 

Stated another way:

Bad people with terrible ideas don’t care what the consequences are so they charge ahead.

Despite all the reasons not to apply to the seminar I went ahead and did it anyway. And, I was right. Sort of. The application did take some necessary time away from my dissertation. As it happens, I did actually get in to the seminar.

Can I afford it? Meh. It’s going to take almost all of my savings, which is a scary prospect since I don’t get paid over the summer, but it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Will it take time away from my dissertation? Yes and no. I will spend almost two weeks not directly working on the dissertation as I travel to, attend, and travel back from the seminar. Yet, the opportunity to take my unfinished document and work with one of the leading voices in my field, someone whose work helped get me hooked on feminist theory in the first place, seems like it could only be good in the long-run.

I’m a realist and so I can’t end this post on a happy-go-lucky-just-do-it note. I’m so happy that I did push through my doubts and apply. I’m so happy I got in, but I know things don’t always work that way. Nevertheless, I call on the good people of the world to be conscious of the Ashe-Hough effect and remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good. You’re a good person. You can figure out how to deal with the consequences as they happen.



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