How good a driver would you say you are?

How good a driver would you say you are?

Pretty decent? Above average even?

Well, you’re not alone. A recent study has found that 93% of people consider their driving skills to be “above average”.

Meanwhile, research conducted with US college students has shown that 85% put themselves above the median when it comes to academic aptitude.

So, it turns out we’re pretty good at convincing ourselves we’re better than average!

Needless to say, there is a slight problem here, mathematically speaking. On average, after all, most of us are bound to be just that: average.

Social psychologists refer to this as ‘superiority bias’. We have a natural tendency to upweight our own abilities relative to those of others.

But there’s an extra twist. Research suggests that superiority bias has a tendency to increase the worse you are at something.

This phenomenon, known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, describes a kind of double-whammy. The less you know about a subject, the more ignorant you are of your ignorance, which means, paradoxically, the more likely you are to consider yourself knowledgeable.

You don’t have to wade far into the world of social media to see the Dunning-Kruger effect in action. It’s the reason why so many internet users think they know more about vaccinology and climate change than people who actually work in those fields.

But we see it in corporate life too.

We’ve probably all had the experience of listening to a senior leader talk with great authority on a topic we happen to know a lot about. It can feel uncomfortable. We’re aware of how much they don’t know, so can spot when they’re stretching the facts or just plain making stuff up. Their confidence may be compelling, but it derives as much from what they don’t know as what they do.

This can be a particular challenge in the realm of customer insight.

Most of us think we have a pretty good understanding of our organisation’s customers. But speak to any in-house research team and they’ll tell you that a lot of what we think we know is questionable at best. Myths and half-truths abound – especially those that feed into narratives the business wants to hear.

Indeed, much of the work of client-side researchers can feel like an endless game of whack-a-mole, hunting down and challenging the same customer fallacies, and trying to displace them with genuine insight.

So, what’s the solution?

It’s no longer enough, it seems, just to rely on reports and presentations to embed insight effectively. Even the best-told stories need a receptive audience – and part of the challenge here is that many decision makers already think they know the answer.

The solution is to get colleagues not just to hear the insight but to experience it.

In a nutshell: customer closeness.

By helping decision-makers to put themselves in the shoes of their target consumers, research teams can go a long way to building a genuine culture of customer centricity.

But how to do that in practice?

Like so many things which appear simple, closeness can be hard to execute well, and there’s no shortage of potential traps lying in wait for the uninitiated.

This is an area where expert guidance can be invaluable. As we’ve learnt from Dunning and Kruger: you don’t know how much you don’t know.

In our next few blogs, we will share our Insight Sherpas viewpoint on best practice for designing and landing an effective customer closeness programme.