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7 Examples of Incompetence

Incompetence is an inability to do something well. This can due to a shortfall of knowledge, talent, character, cognitive ability, motivation or diligence. The following are illustrative examples.

Dunning–Kruger Effect

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias whereby untalented individuals in a domain overestimate their ability and talented individuals underestimate their ability. This can be due to unknown unknowns such that an individual who is incompetent is unaware that certain types of knowledge exist. For example, a politician who believes they are brilliantly managing an economy due to a total lack of knowledge about economics.

Peter Principle

The peter principle is the theory that people rise to the level of their incompetence in an organization. This is based on a pattern whereby competent people are promoted therefore everyone is promoted until they are no longer competent in their role. For example, a brilliant engineer who is promoted to management who is promoted no further because they're not very good at managing people.

Bozo Explosion

A bozo explosion is when an incompetent manager hires a large number of incompetent employees such that they single-handedly decrease the overall competence of an organization. This often involves a manager hiring friends and former colleagues and may denote a tendency for incompetent professionals to rely on social connections to advance their career.

Failing Upwards

Failing upwards is a tendency for risk-taking professionals to be promoted despite failures. Risk-taking may be perceived as a desirable trait and risk-taking individuals may be highly visible and engaged such that they may be forgiven for failures.

Skilled Incompetence

Incompetence can occur amongst those who are talented and knowledgeable for a variety of reasons. For example, a team can be incompetent due to the dynamics of internal politics such as the abilene paradox even if each individual member of the team is unusually talented.

Personal Resilience

Personal resilience is an ability to handle stresses in a reasonably functional way. This can be highly relevant to competence. For example, a customer service representative who loses all semblance of competence when faced with a difficult customer.

Fake It Until You Make It

Incompetence can be viewed as a natural step in a learning process whereby nobody is competent the first time they try something. As such, the courage to try things that are a little beyond your current knowledge and ability is often a good thing. For example, a cook at a restaurant who takes over as manager such that they make a large number of mistakes in the first few weeks due to a lack of experience. Such a manager is likely to be competent with time, assuming they learn from each mistake.
Overview: Incompetence
An inability to do something well.
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