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Friday, February 20, 2009

Speak Often, and People Will Hand You the Big Stick

Posted By on Fri, Feb 20, 2009 at 11:37 AM

This is the enemy...
  • This is the enemy...

Although I'm not sure we needed any more evidence that people tend to be followers with terrible judgment, researchers at UC Berkeley have provided it. Their study on perception of competence, recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and highlighted in a Time Magazine article, also suggests that your boss may be a moron.

Cameron Anderson,an associate professor of organizational behavior and industrial relations, and Ph.D student Gavin Kilduff gathered 68 grad students, put them in teams of four, and asked them to work on projects together. First, the students were asked to create an imaginary environmental non-profit, and the best one -- as determined by the researchers -- would receive a $400 prize. Then, groups were asked to solve math problems that had appeared on the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT).

The sessions were videotaped, and then group members, independent observers, and the researchers themselves evaluated the participants on how influential and competent they seemed. All came to the basically the same conclusions -- that people who took charge were smarter and more dependable. For the non-profit-building task, there was no way to check those assumptions. But the math problems task -- which had right and wrong answers -- revealed that oftentimes those who took charge had no idea how to solve the problem. Not only that, but many "leaders" reported lower scores than other group members on the math section of the SAT.

So how should you proceed with this new information? I'd recommend undermining your bosses whenever possible. Get this: At a recent SF Weekly staff meeting, a boss told us to stop blogging about dumb university studies.

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Ashley Harrell


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