When future historians look back at the Obama administration, they will need to explain how a man with so little experience and no demonstrated competence managed to become President of the United States.
In 2008 the Obama mania did not just infect people who did not know any better. People who should have known better, corporate leaders who would never have considered Barack Obama for high executive position in their own companies happily jumped on the Obama bandwagon.
How did so many people get fooled by so little?
Already, neuroscientists are addressing the question, though not in political terms. I suspect that they are not yet aware of the political implications of their research.
I defy anyone to read the Time Magazine report on new research into the effects of overconfidence and not think of Barack Obama.
Maia Szalavitz writes:
The first study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, explored the positive effects of overconfidence, showing that it enhances social status by presenting a false image of competence. If you’ve ever wondered how the utterly clueless rise to the top, or why managers often seem to make worse decisions than dart-throwing bonobos, this research provides some insight.
The story continues:
The story continues:
In other words, people who think they are good at something are seen as being good at it, whether or not they actually are. (Even dogs demonstrate this effect: ever watch a chihuahua intimidate a much larger dog?) Unfortunately, even in the absence of actual ability, the illusion of strength and competence that people exude makes others see them as good potential leaders.
The authors conclude that although selecting leaders is one of the most important tasks for societies and groups, “we are often forced to rely on proxies for ability such as individuals’ confidence. In so doing, we as a society create incentives for those who would seek status to display more confidence than their actual ability merits.” That, of course, leaves us vulnerable to picking those who can best exhibit confidence, not competence.
It’s normal to confuse overconfidence with competence. But, when hiring someone for your company you will want to see some substantive proof of competence. Overconfidence is nice, but it must be tested against reality.
Two interesting questions arise here.
First, how does someone become so convinced of his ability that his overconfidence can con other people?
People are not born overconfident; they are made overconfident. Overconfidence does not just well up from the depths of your soul.
Most likely, an individual who is overconfident was pampered and spoiled throughout most of his life. If he was constantly told that he was the best and that he could do no wrong, then he never had to learn how to deal with failure or inadequacy.
In his case overconfidence involves an inability to accept the judgment of reality.
Where a normal con man, a Bernard Madoff, knows that he is a fraud, someone who suffers from overconfidence actually believes that he is as good as people say he is.
Cocky and arrogant he believes in himself, no matter what. He does not believe, not even in the depths of his soul, that he is trying to defraud people.
He persuades others because he holds to his overconfidence with complete and unshakable conviction.
Yet, overconfidence needs care and tending. Someone whose confidence outstrips his accomplishments must surround himself with flunkies and sycophants, people who believe in him as much as he does.
And he must also learn how to deny facts that would undermine his overconfidence, either by blaming others for his failures or by convincing himself that everything is always the best.
Second, in politics the overconfidence game requires significant support from the media.
During Obama's first run for the presidency, the media presented him exactly as he saw himself. It expressed complete and unwavering confidence in his ability to do the job.
The media kept repeating the story and kept slanting the news so that finally everyday Americans came to believe it to be a fact.
An overconfident individual makes a good first impression. If we are reasonably astute and we have the time we can see through the illusion.
Yet, when a climate of opinion keeps insisting that overconfidence is well grounded, deviating from that opinion will make you feel like an outsider.
Obviously, not everyone was conned by Barack Obama’s overconfidence.
Today, an Obama record does exist. The state of the nation cannot be blamed on the Bush administration. Even the press has woken up and seen the reality behind the overconfidence.
The press loved Barack Obama but it loves itself more. As it loses more and more business it seems to be asking itself whether it wants to to go down with the good ship Obama. More and more, the major media are refusing to play Obama's overconfidence game.