On a daily basis, most of us probably repeat to ourselves the psychological truth of Julius Caesar's famous phrase "I came, I saw, I conquered" ("Veni, vidi, vici").
When approaching rush hour traffic, what do we think? (I'm here, I see the traffic, I will survive).
When approaching tax season, what do we think? (It's here, I see the forms, I'll fill them in).
When getting married, having a child, burying a loved one? (I'm here, it's happening, it will all work out).
Sheer optimism has survival value when we deal with topics where we lack expertise.
Research even shows that entrepreneurs tend to have more optimism than the general public. How else to survive the rigors of starting a business that you never started before?
But do we expect optimism alone to solve the problem of providing surgery on a brain tumor? Or solve the issues of global economic contraction?
In the case of specialized knowledge, we know we must step more carefully. We probably can abandon optimism in favor of a humble confession that someone else knows better.
So, now we can ask you this question: when it comes to solving the problems of usability, does your manager invoke "To See Is To Conquer" or do they ask "Give Me Your Expertise".
I'm sure we've all had the experience of telling someone a tip about interface design and we hear the response "but that's not the way I see it ‚Äď we should do it THIS way".
For example, yesterday I reviewed a corporate business application that resided in a Web browser. The home page had a search component along with other functions on the page.
I indicated to my friend who had developed the page that the user would benefit from seeing a dark border around the "action button" that triggers the search. We know this as the "default" action triggered when selecting the Enter key.
My developer friend explained his reluctance to use the darker default border because, as he said, "it's in a browser." "Browsers don't use default indicators like that", he said.
I replied, "but it's clearly an application and our users will expect to know which button gets activated when they press the Enter key."
Without repeating our entire conversation, I must admit there were elements of truth in his observations. For example, I just now checked the Google search page, and see that indeed, there is no default symbol around the "Google Search" button that distinguishes it from the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button.
What was the Google designer thinking? Well ‚Äď in such a simple case, it just didn't matter! (Or maybe, they just didn't think about it.)
Do I get nervous? Should I revise my theory about putting a dark border around the default button just because Google didn't do it?
There is an answer. But first I need to share some facts about human nature that help you address similar issues with your own development team and managers.
It turns out that we can expect untrained colleagues and co-workers to draw wrong conclusions when talking about usability issues dear to our hearts. And we can expect them to feel their opinions have the weight of truth and justice.
Research published in 1999 by Justin Kruger and David Dunning shows that individuals who fell within the bottom 25% of those reporting knowledge in a given topic still tended to place themselves in the "above average knowledge" category. Does that sound familiar?
For example, participants were given quizzes that separately tested their sense of humor, grammar, and logic. These are general skills for which we all have "experience" and presumably some competence to judge.
They were also asked to estimate their skill level compared to other people taking the same set of quizzes.
When looking at the 25% of the participants who scored the lowest, their average quiz scores fell around the bottom 10-12th percent of the possible scores. Meanwhile, those very same participants predicted their own scores would fall above average ‚Äď their scores would rank as high as 58 to 67 percent of the other participants' scores. Quite a contrast.
Does this remind you of "To see is to conquer"? These individuals were quite optimistic about their skills in humor, grammar and logic.
The authors suggest that "Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it."
Meanwhile, what about those participants whose quiz scores fell in the top 25% of scores? How did their self-estimates compare with their scores?
Do the charts and research above remind you of the adage: when a teenager, your parents know very little. But as an adult, you marvel at your parent's wisdom?
Or, recall the proverb, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". Perhaps you run into this every day at work. It's called the "politics of usability". Perhaps this is the competition that provides the hardest challenges.
How do you handle this form of competition ‚Äď the politics of usability?
So far, it looks like we can answer this question by choosing "To See is to Conquer" or we can be modest and ask if there is more to be learned in solving this problem. The choice is ours.
Our two authors oblige with further research that shows us a useful solution. Let us learn.
In this context, the authors studied the effect of training participants in logical reasoning skills. They wondered if the lack of self-knowledge about poor performance on the quiz could be corrected by training in the topic.
The authors administered a short logic test to 140 participants, collecting both the actual performance scores and the participant estimates of their comparative skills.
Then the authors instructed 70 of them using a standard logic reasoning packet while the other 70 engaged in a filler task that took the same amount of time (about 10 minutes ‚Äď not much time if you think about it).
Subsequently, all participants reviewed their own tests and indicated which problems they had answered correctly and which incorrectly.
What does all this mean for you as a usability expert dealing with colleagues and managers?
Simply put, "train them".
This simple proverb provides us a simple agenda.
We all have our inner scripting that unreels daily when confronted with frustrating events.
Promoting usability and gaining credibility for your work provides challenges no different than many occupations. Consider the doctor who hopes that their patient takes the blood-pressure medication regularly or enrolls in a meditation program to reduce hypertension.
This doctor faces the same dilemma of the patient being overconfident in their own knowledge about their illness.
Across many occupations, we see the conflicts between these two attitudes: "To See Is To Conquer" confronts "Gives Me Your Expertise".
But, as we saw above, increased knowledge about the domain, whether it be logic, usability, or medical issues of hypertension, brings the client into contact with more realistic thinking.
By the way, that's the same solution Julius Caesar brought when he came, saw, and conquered. He was an expert military tactician, not a novice with a surplus of bravery.
Meanwhile, for your usability practice, consider these reminders‚Ä¶.
The adventure awaits.
Go, see, and conquer.
Ehrlinger, Joyce; Johnson, Kerri; Banner, Matthew; Dunning, David; and Kruger, Justin, 2008. Why the unskilled are unaware: Further explorations of (absent) self-insight among the incompetent. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 105, 98-121.
Kruger, Justin and Dunning, David 1999. Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 77, (6), 1121-1134. (Republished online, 2009: Psychology 1, 30-46)
Wikipedia. Last update 29 June, 2010. Dunning-Kruger Effect. Downloaded 29 June, 2010.
Thanks Dr. Schaffer, your newsletter is spot on with my challenges. Although I've read and heard a lot of this when attending HFI classes, it's a great help to read this and it gives me a little more confidence. Keep it coming!
Excellent article John! The way you explain the problem, it's overall solution and then the tools to make that solution happen, is very clear and easy to digest. Thanks for the great info, Ron
Nice article. Thanks for the confidence to share some of the mouse click data i collected on a particular project with higher management.
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