This week’s riff: There is a psychological concept called illusory superiority. The concept explains why most people believe that they are better-than-average across many different skills and characteristics, even though that’s mathematically impossible to be the case.

Illusory superiority has been seen in many situations. Students, for example, tend to over-estimate the grades they will obtain, and I’m sure you’ve noticed that most of your team believe that they’re better-than-average during your performance review discussions. A study of convicted prisoners even showed that a large majority of criminals believed that they were morally superior to most of their other inmates!

The belief that you’re better-than-average is useful in helping you to tackle difficult tasks and overcome major obstacles. But it can also blind you to the reality of your current situation and your actual level of performance.

When Nokia’s market share started to drop in the mid-noughties, for instance, I was surprised by the level of shock of Nokia’s UK managers at the company’s decline. It seemed clear to me, and many others, that the newly-launched iPhone had the capacity to kill their business, but Nokia’s domination of the global smartphone market – it had a 50% share in 2005 – had cemented a feeling of illusory superiority that pervaded the entire organisation.

The only way to avoid this better-than-average complacency is to have an approach of critical analysis, a focus on the facts and an environment where bad news can be discussed openly.

What is the level of illusory superiority in your business? And what steps are you taking to shine the light of reality, rather than wishful thinking, on your decision-making?


Off The Record: Anything You Can Do by Irving Berlin

From the musical, Annie Get Your Gun, here is the perfect song for all ‘sufferers’ of illusory superiority!

Anything you can do, I can do better

I can do anything better than you

No, you can’t

Yes, I can

No, you can’t

Yes, I can

No, you can’t

Yes, I can! Yes, I can!


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.