Are You Suffering from Earned Dogmatism?

You are clever right? You have great experience that informs your views and allows you to confidently back your judgements. Great! And… take care….

Earned dogmatism is a cognitive bias where smart people overestimate the extent of their expertise*. Numerous studies have shown that we overestimate our expertise, especially in relation to expertise we have had in previous times. We have a sense that our knowing has earned us the right to remain closeminded about a subject, and so we reject arguments that disagree with our position. Particular politicians may come to mind…

I know this to be true for myself in relation to endurance cycling. In my late twenties, I did a lot of cycling. I was so fit that on a weekend when we were too ‘lazy’ to do a proper ride, we would coast from Melbourne to Frankston and over the back of Arthurs Seat, have lunch at the Pig and Whistle and then ride back to Melbourne – a 145 km round trip. It’s now been 25 years since I rode that easily and frequently, and yet my lack of current fitness (and the scales) is something I notice myself ignoring. In my mind, if I had to get back on a bike and ride for a 500 kms in one go, I still could! (Please don’t test me on this. When I’m being realistic and calling my own bias, I know this isn’t the case. Muscle memory can only take me so far!)

Last week I was working with an executive team and they were exploring the concept of ‘review and relearn’. One person honestly and insightfully said ‘I have seen it all before. I hear the problem and I see the route we need to take. I make it happen. The risk is that I don’t let others fully understand the issues and make a contribution to the solution.’ Someone else added ‘And others might have better solutions – things change.’ And a third ‘So we are contributing to disengagement.’

Where are you bringing earned dogmatism into your leadership? Might you be rejecting ideas that others – possibly younger and with different training and background to you – are proposing? Could you be disregarding new evidence in order to maintain your favoured ways of doing things? What’s the risk to you and the business?

Go Fearlessly



* If you are interested in learning more about this, check out “Why Smart People Do Stupid Things: A Guide to Upgrading your Thinking” in New Scientist 23 February 2019.