Home Organizational Psychology Organizational Behavior / Dynamics In Search of Truth I: Hubris and Narcissism

In Search of Truth I: Hubris and Narcissism

27 min read

Kevin Weitz, Psy.D. and William Bergquist, Ph.D.

Research demonstrates that the predictions of many experts about the future are often “devastatingly” wrong. (Kahneman, 2013). Those experts with the most knowledge are often the most unreliable. This is because many experts develop the “illusion” of skill and can become over-confident. They develop the so-called “arrogance of over-confidence”. This kind of illusion of expert knowledge and subsequent “arrogance” is not only risky and can provide false hope in situations of Coronavirus, but also in the process of company strategic planning.

The problem is not that leaders who attempt to predict the future make mistakes – that’s a given (Kahneman, 2011). It’s that errors of prediction are inevitable because the world is complex and unpredictable (who clearly predicated the coronavirus?). What tends to worsen these situations and make them more dangerous is that people with the most knowledge can tend to emerge as leaders, with lots of influence on the people around them. As Kahneman describes, psychologists have confirmed that most people (and especially senior leaders) genuinely believe they are superior to most others on desirable traits (including knowledge and expertise), almost developing a narcissistic perspective to their thinking as those around them admire and enable their leaders’ expertise.

Inaccuracies of Expertise: The Power Law and Hubris

What happens with the sense of superiority and a touch of narcissism? What we are likely to find is that a closed system is established in which information and assumptions are simply bouncing around in an echo chamber. There is no one person of sufficient stature or authority to question the knowledge being shared (supposedly without biases) and predictions being made (based on this knowledge). System theorists would suggest that a closed feedback loop has been created. There are no buffers in this loop—hence it becomes what is called a “positive” (self-reinforcing) feedback loop that accelerates exponentially. The validation of knowledge is operating by something called a power law—confidence in the knowledge and resulting predictions is increasing by a power of two or three (that is two times two times two etc.). It may seem appropriate that this power law is in effect, for there is also a power law operating with the virus itself—the spread of COVID-19 (and all pandemic viruses) accelerates exponentially.

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