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The Dunning kruger effect and Kickstarter creators

There is a psychological phenomena much quoted in relation to the worst kind of Kickstarters, its something called the Dunning Kruger effect, and if you intend to become a Kickstarter creator its probably a good idea for you to do a little self-analysis in relation to it.

Strictly speaking the Dunning Kruger effect is a combination of two viewpoints of the world, namely that smart people assume that they are average, and so that by extension that around half of all other people are smarter than them and that dumb people lack sufficient understanding to know how dumb they are. That is to say, both smart people and dumb people inaccurately judge their own intelligence, and that maps over to other areas of life and judgements on ability. If you’re one of the smart people things generally shake out for you, they’re the people who are constantly baffled by why everything seems so easy for them. If you’re one of the dumb ones though, there’s a decent chance that your Kickstarter is headed for the Board Game Geek worst ever Kickstarters thread.

The problem for those who find themselves on the dumb end of the Dunning Kruger effect is that knowing how capable you are is a form of capacity, and if you lack capacity then you probably lack the capacity to know how incapable you are. To put it another way, the ability to recognise lack of ability tends to be lacked by those who lack ability. As such there are a shocking number of people who have poured a shocking number of hours into creating Kickstarters because they didn’t know that they should have been putting those hours into acquiring the abilities needed to create Kickstarters instead.

Now, we all need a little bit of delusion, no game and no Kickstarter is likely to ever be perfect. I personally know a number of almost creators trapped in attempting to create the perfect Kickstarter for years now. You should launch before things are perfect, because otherwise you’ll never launch. But if the point of the Dunning Kruger effect is that those suffering from it not only can’t tell that they’re suffering from it, but don’t even know that they lack the skills to be able to recognise it happening, what can we do to protect ourselves from it? It seems to be a circular problem that you’re either inside of or free from. Well, there are a few things you can do to help yourself to avoid the Dunning Kruger trap.

Learning, not just for the dumb

Dunning Kruger in their own study recognised that those with specific training in a particular field were much more able to accurately judge their own capabilities in that field. Sadly, there’s not currently a course you can take in Kickstarter, but there is a lot you can do. Firstly, read blogs with Kickstarter advice in them (go you), read books about Kickstarter, listen to podcasts about Kickstarter, generally the internet is awash with Kickstarter advice, take advantage of it. Secondly, watch Kickstarter. At any point there are hundreds of tabletop gaming Kickstarters. Read them, look through them, not just the ones you’re interested in, but try for at least one week to look over every Kickstarter that launches. Looking at Kickstarters, good and bad, is the equivalent of reading novels for a wannabe writer, it teaches you what they should look like, and what they shouldn’t. It also helps to make sure that the game you’re launching is a good game, but don’t assume that because you’ve learnt everything you can and worked yourself ragged designing your game that you know anything about launching a Kickstarter, they are two related but separate skill sets.

Challenge accepted

Challenge your reasoning. The Dunning Kruger effect is part of poor metacognition, which is to say, thinking about thinking. If you approach problems with a collection of pre-set logical processes and patterns it will increase your confidence, but it will decrease your metacognition, you won’t think so hard about how you’re thinking. So, ask why you’re approaching things in the way you are, the point isn’t to find out that you’re wrong, so much as to think about why you think that.

Challenge your claims. Play devil’s advocate with yourself. There are things you can’t fix, but there are also things that you can but you’ve come up with a reason that you shouldn’t. Make sure that you’re not excusing something that you could fix if you took the time, or accepting something that you let pass on a first run through but could fix now.

Challenge your longstanding views. Its easy to put something in place and then not question it. Every time you learn something new you’re increasing the chances that the things you put in place before were created by a version of yourself that was on the wrong end of the Dunning Kruger effect. Go back and show old you what new you has learnt.

Those who can’t, criticise

Criticism is vitally important in combatting the Dunning Kruger effect. Not just to change or improve things, but sometimes to understand why they’re absolutely fine as they are. Now, the internet is rife with criticism, and much of it is criticism for the sake of criticism, but most of it is well intentioned. If you come to someone asking for advice most people will look for what they can fix, not what they can praise, mostly because people think you know what’s right, because you did it right, but you don’t know what’s wrong, otherwise you’d have done it right. Try to assume that everyone offering criticism is an intelligent, well versed person with a valid opinion. Don’t throw out what they have to say wholesale, or dump it because you have one person who gave the opposite opinion, pin down what their criticism is and try to ascertain its merits.

Identifying your own tendencies towards the Dunning Kruger effect won’t make your campaign great, but hopefully it will make you able to tell if you have the tools to make a campaign that won’t embarrass you.

Have you come across any techniques for dealing with cognitive bias that you’d like to share? Do you think that creators are more likely to suffer from Dunning Kruger effect than most people? Or more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome?


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