When the juice doesn’t work …

The danger of inflated self-assessment

I’ve previously mentioned humility in leadership and it’s a theme I would like to pick up on.

The following story comes from a paper by James Kruger and David Dunning (Psychology Today, 2009) who studied cognitive bias; the tendency to inflate our own assessments of our own abilities.

In 1995 a man named McArthur Wheeler robbed not one but two banks in Pittsburgh in broad daylight, in full view of the CCTV and without any attempt at disguise. He was, of course, apprehended very quickly and when arrested expressed astonishment he had been identified, saying to police officers “But I wore the juice”. Mr Wheeler had robbed those banks safe in the knowledge that if you rubbed lemon juice on your face then you are invisible to CCTV cameras. Of course you are…

While the story is both sad and funny in equal measure Kruger and Dunning saw it as a metaphor for the type of thinking that is shoddy, ill informed and open to bias.

There are many other studies of bias and distorted thinking and I often cite the study of Ole Svenson (1981) who identified that 80% of Swedish drivers rated their own driving ability as being in the top 30% of drivers. This type of result and evidence of cognitive bias is repeated in those other studies too.

So taking that in the context of leadership and management I’m left wondering how many leaders you come into contact who:

a) use ‘lemon juice’ –  relying on methods or approaches that you can see are not working for them?

b) over inflate their self assessment?

If you visit the Critical Thinking Foundation their bookstore has a Miniature Guide of Concepts and Tools which helps us develop  a “higher order of thinking”.  This means thinking that is free (as we can be) from bias, distortion and shoddy thinking.  Thinking that tests assumptions and encourages us to view our situation from multiple perspectives.

I hope I demonstrate this in my every day dealings but may now consider; what my particular brand of juice might be and is it working…?

Many thanks to Dr Nick Sutcliffe SFHEA of Leeds Beckett University for sharing the Kruger and Dunning paper.


3 Leadership Ideas:

  • How can you get a valid and bias free assessment of your own leadership/managerial capabilities?
  • When do you find time to reflect on your methods and evaluate how well they work?
  • How can you ensure management meetings etc think critically and are relatively free from bias and shoddy thinking?
Posted by John Drysdale
17th July 2015
John's Blog


New Projects for Summer/Autumn 2018

It has been a really rewarding couple of weeks here at No Guru with new work and wonderful new clients added to our portfolio.

This week we met with the Senior Team at Irwell Valley Homes who have commissioned a project in support of their new brand. (more…)

No Guru now working with University of Huddersfield

Quarter 1 has started off with brilliant news, a newly commissioned programme of delivery for the University of Huddersfield to deliver ‘Strategic Thinking in Higher Education’ as part of an ambitious programme of development for Senior Managers. This leads to a recognised qualification from the Chartered Management Institute.  Head of Staff Development, Daniel Benton explains (more…)

Coaching for Results: Event with Professional Liverpool

We are delighted to be partnering with Professional Liverpool to deliver a FREE seminar on Monday 5th March (3pm to 5pm).

This explores the role of Coaching (and Mentoring) in helping staff deliver business results.  The session will be run by John Drysdale and will be a chance to find out how you can coach more effectively and perhaps consider a role in Coaching and Mentoring through our ILM Programmes.

To reserve your place click here. (more…)


John's Blog

The Immortal Memory: Robert Burns

Address to The Liverpool Athenaeum  2nd February 2018

I was delighted to be asked by club President Sir David Maddison to deliver The Immortal Memory at The Athenaeum Burns evening which I attended with my wife Fiona. This is a huge honour for any Scot and I hope I did it justice.  Burns provides such a rich tapestry I found it a real challenge to be succint and speak in a way that would connect with the audience – I chose to set Burns against the universal themes we recognise today and in the challenges we face in uncertain times.  I hope you enjoy it.   JD


The Immortal Memory – Robert Burns 1759-1796

The Athenaeum 2nd Feb 2018

President, ladies and gentlemen, fellow proprietors and distinguished guests.  I am honoured to propose the Immortal Memory this evening.

To one Robert Burns who lived between 1759 and 1796.


Image Triage – be careful what you post

How to avoid public ‘shaming’

If you’ve ever read Jon Ronson’s book ‘Shamed’, you will know the devastating effect social media can have on people who have posted something stupid on the internet.

Ronson highlights the case of Justine Sacco (a director of corporate communications) who, before boarding an 11-hour flight from Heathrow to Cape Town, Tweeted to her 170 followers what she thought was a series of lighthearted, acerbic comments about her journey. (more…)

Across the great divide

Reworking of an earlier blog of mine, marking the 50th Anniversaries of the deaths of Martin Luther King (4/4/68) and Robert F Kennedy (6/6/68)

Let’s be kinder to each other 

There is a striking memorial in a park in Indianapolis.  It marks the spot where, in April 1968, Robert Kennedy told a waiting crowd that Martin Luther King had been shot and killed, before speaking from the heart and his own personal experience, that violence is never an answer to our grievances.  His calming words quelled the rioting that other cities endured in the days after Dr King’s death and, arguably, saved some lives that night.


The memorial itself is an arresting work of art.  (more…)