Unskilled and unaware of it
Recently I came across an articlefrom ESPN revealing that my countryman, the Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner, has scored highly in ‘self-perceived competence’ on a psychological test. Sport psychologist Jacques Crevoisier revealed that the Bendtner’s mark was off the scale.
“On a scale up to 9, Bendtner got 10”, Crevoisier told the Swedish magazine Offside.
The result is not that surprising. Nicklas Bendtner has made a bunch of comments in the media over the years highlighting his belief in himself and many have suggested that his confidence borders on arrogance. As Pat Rise, the Arsenal assistant manager, noted in the ESPN article.
“When Bendtner misses a chance, he is always genuinely convinced that it wasn’t his fault.“
The question is obviously: Is this psychological characteristic a flaw or can it be useful for Bendtner’s performance and for Arsenal FC?
As Rice puts it: “You might say that’s a problem, and to a certain degree it can be. But you can also view it as this guy has a remarkable ability to come back after set-backs.”
I have to admit that I don’t recognize the same positive perspectives in Bendtner’s psychological profile. I found the test result quite entertaining, but at the same time quite tragic. Actually I think this is the sole reason that Nicklas Bendtner will never achieve his full potential. I’m also asking myself what explains his extreme overconfidence in the face of concrete evidence (being nothing but a decent benchwarmer in Arsenal and Juventus) for his actual skills?
The illusion of confidence
A few years back a group of American researchers ran an experiment at the US Amateur Chess Championship. As players walked by on their way to or from games the researchers asked them to fill out a short questionnaire. They posed two simple questions:
1. What is your most recent official chess ranking?
2. What do you think your rating should be to reflect your true current strength?
As expected, all the players were aware of their exact ratings. Since they know what they are rated, they ought to be able to correctly answer the second questions about what they should be rated. The correct answer is obviously their current rating, because the rating system’s design ensures that ratings are an accurate measure of skill. But only 21 percent of the players in the experiment actually said their current rating reflected their true strength. About 4 percent thought they were overrated and the other 75 percent believed they were underrated. The magnitude of the chess players’ overconfidence in their own playing ability was stunning. Despite their long and intimate experience with competitive chess ratings, they dramatically overestimated their abilities.
Even more interestingly, the experiment found that the chess players who considered themselves most underrated were disproportionately found in the bottom half of the ability range. Stronger players were somewhat overconfident, but weaker players were extremely overconfident. In other words: those who are the least skilled are the most likely to think better of themselves than they should – they disproportionately experience the same illusion as Nicklas Bendtner: the illusion of confidence.
The illusion of confidence is present almost everywhere in society. Studies have shown that ninety-four percent of university professors think they are better at their jobs than their average colleague. Twenty-five percent of college students believe they are in the top 1% in terms of their ability to get along with others. Seventy percent of college students think they are above average in leadership ability. Only two percent think they are below average. We obviously tend to think of ourselves as more talented, knowledgeable, and indispensable than others. The danger of this inflated self-image is to believe that we don’t need to work harder than our competition. In an attempt to defend our self-image we go into denial when we are faced with facts and circumstances that challenge it.
I believe that any top performer (football players, business leaders, politicians etc.) must be able to put them self in state of total belief. You must believe that you are able to do big things, but you must also be able to put yourself in a state where you are self-critical and brutally honest with yourself. This is the so-called Stockdale paradox, which Jim Collins describes in his bestselling book “From Good to Great” about why some companies make the leap and others don’t:
“Those who confront the brutal facts, who recognize the harsh realities facing business today, yet never lose faith that they will succeed in the end are more likely to pull through and win”.
I’m sure that the self-esteem to confront the brutal facts is what separates the best from the rest in any field. These crucial moments where you look yourself in the mirror and have the courage to acknowledge that you are now consciously incompetent. Much, much worse it is to be like Nicklas Bendtner – unconsciously incompetent.