The overconfidence problem

The overconfidence problem

Summary: The cult of me from a survey of US freshmen shows increasing perceptions of being 'above average': Are they deluded or the greatest generation?


there's an intriguing article about narcissism and self confidence 'Does confidence really breed success?' by William Kremer on the BBC news website this morning, quoting US psychologist Jean Twenge and others.

The article is focused on the 'American Freshman Survey' and notes the changing values over time since 1966, the first year of participation.

Each year hundreds of two and four year colleges along with universities administer the CIRP Freshman Survey (TFS) to hundreds of thousands of entering students during orientation or registration.

The survey covers a wide range of student characteristics: parental income and education, ethnicity, and other demographic items; financial aid; secondary school achievement and activities; educational and career plans; and values, attitudes, beliefs, and self-concept.

Published annually in "The American Freshman," the results from these surveys continue to provide a comprehensive portrait of the changing character of entering students and American society at large.

Twenge wrote the books 'The Narcissim Epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement' in 2010 and 'Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before' in 2007 which gives a pretty clear overview of her perspective on this topic. I think Twenge is an important voice in our current febrile digital social life climate.

Twenge and colleagues have analyzed the American Freshman Survey data and found over the past four decades there has been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being "above average" for academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability and self-confidence.

You could argue that society has ratcheted up the pressure to be seen to be visibly successful over the same period, and we live in an era that encourages emotional expression, particularly in formerly stiff upper lip England.

An English CIO complained to me recently that most incoming fresh-out-of-college employees had the 'attention span of gnats', wanted to immediately take charge of projects without supervision and were generally very overconfident without the skills to back that up.

Getting people to coexist and work together over time isn't easy - ask any middle manager in the trenches with a long list of time sensitive tasks to supervise getting done - and overconfident, noisy people who let you down has to be near the top of the list of frustrations.

The places we meet up socially in the digital realm are designed to flatter us and are all about you in your own time and terms, as I've written here many times previously. Collaborative work sites are a very different animal and require collective social sensitivities and respect that are mostly absent in the casual world of Facebook and the flighty social whirl of Twitter.

Perhaps the pendulum will swing back towards far more formal ways of interacting over time as the current era of self indulgence described by Jean Twenge and others peaks. For now the magazine-like Facebook user interface concepts by Fred Nerby on Behance above and here show where the cult of me is heading.






Topic: Social Enterprise


Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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  • This is the generation where everyone got a trophy.

    Did not matter if they won little league game or not, the worst team were still told they were winners. While I understand the thought of not wanting to single out a specific group as being "best" and a different group as being "worst", I think this mentality bread a narcissistic mindset making individuals unable to self-assecc their situation.

    Much like the outrage some politicians have had over the insight of Murray that half of our children are below average... And we need to get these below average children above average... The idea that we can all be "above average" is ingrained on popular politics.
  • who knews ?

    Whenever you apply for a job you have to describe yourself. If you confess that you are just an average person your applications goes right into the trash.
    In todays world one has to continually self promote to get attention.
    Is that worse than what companies do ? Promoting their products as being the best.
    • ...

      They aren't talking about resumes or applications. They're talking about a survey and how that translates to the workplace. Students are completely over-confident, even when it's undeserved. I see this every day being a student myself.
  • Isn't this the reason

    Overconfidence could be the reason why every job requires prior job experience nowadays. Recent graduates need a dose of reality to get their "above averageness" under control.
  • This uh...

    this describes me about a year ago.

    I thought that everyone I was working with was doing things poorly and that I should take charge of projects.

    I wouldn't chalk it up to the "everyone's a winner" education system (privately schooled), it was just the thought that since I was young I was "more up-to-date" than the older guys I had to work with.

    Good article, by the way.
  • Here's my opinion...

    When you graduate, the 1st year or two out, you tend to have A LOT of energy. A lot more than compared to the 45 year old mid manager that kinda hum drums around the office.

    Plus 'freshmen' don't really mind being exploited (long hours, lower pay, running errands, etc), just to get that initial experience and a legitimate resume filler. They fully EXPECT to have to prove themselves, while a lot of senior employees just ride their tenure as an excuse.

    Now as far as leading a project, maybe you put one entry manager position 'up for grabs', hire about 10 freshmen, and make them compete for it. It really shouldn't even be a position that requires them to be responsible for any critical business processes, leave that to the 10+ yr vets.

    Just led them lead some 'nice to have' projects you've been wanting to get done for a few years with a few of their peers. Once they prove their worth and gain some trust, then you can start rearing them for the important stuff if that's the path they want to take.

    Honestly, after about 2 months, they will have their feet wet a little, if you're the brightest young hire coming out of a dozen, you have probably picked up the necessary day to day stuff, lingo, and business culture fine. I'm sure they could manage something.

    I guess there's a fine line between being confident or enthusiastic vs. cocky or arrogant though. However, there's an old saying at one place I worked, treat those smart kids well because someday they might be YOUR boss :)
  • Most People Are Above Average

    It only takes a few losers to drag down the mean.
    • Re: It only takes a few losers to drag down the mean.

      Looks like one of those losers has come along and flagged me.

      Firm grasp of statistics, much?
  • It is about modern communication

    Social networks despite the name are absolutely anti-social. Communication is too manageable. So people choose only "positive" lines of communication, without anyone to ground them, level to reality. And that is an important part of social life.

    Someone says something critical? Oh, it is just a troll, everyone knows that trolls ought to be ignored. Thats the modern way of thinking.
  • RE:New generation similar then the old one

    There are differences by between my generation (1979 college graduate) and the new one mainly such as privacy being a much lesser priority for this generation and volunteerism and working in teams which is actually much higher today then in the "idealistic" 1960s.

    In the issues discussed her not so much. Self centered is a personality definition of being young. Confidence? back in my day people thought they could take all manner of drugs and drink and manage driving and take a final the next day. I think the difference is all the consultants/advisers saying you must project self confidence to get anywhere so they say it believing it or not. On the other side of the coin I would have answered negatively to a confidence in my senior year. It was only when I got into the real world that I realized the ways in which I was cocky asshole know it all.
  • One huge change

    In 1996 when I was a freshman, I guarantee that not one female in my class looked like "Samantha". Not one.
    Only 5% of the class was female.
    Of course it was an engineering school.
    Dave Barnes