95% of drivers think they’re in the top quartile – superiority as a barrier to change

This is one of my favourite statistics.  95% of drivers think they’re in the top quartile of performance.  There’s a similar statistic for Professors in Higher Education.  I’ve started to look into this phenomenon a bit.  Wikipedia has a long article devoted to Illusory Superiority   or superiority bias.

When someone’s been doing a job for a period of time they can believe that they know how to do it better than anybody and that’s their definition of doing the job professionally.  It’s a way of controlling the work and ensuring predictability.  It can then become tricky to consider making improvements to the work and collaborating with others.   More than once, I’ve been told that changes can’t be made because of x or y reason.

I get it.  Most people don’t go to work to have everything thrown up in the air on a daily basis.  I’m not arguing for that.  I think it’s preferable to have a small level of regular change rather than the shock of a transformation every few years.

I also sympathise with those who do try to make changes and are faced with the inertia of the organisation.  When in that position you have to weigh up whether or not to push through to get the change to happen or live with the status quo.

When I was early in my career I had an administrative job in a central government department.  We had a mouse problem.  We were in an old building so mice were inevitable.  The mice were fairly tame and would run around the office during the day.   I had reported the mouse sightings to Estates and Facilities.  Nothing much had happened.  I called again.  They said they would add it to their list.  This made it sound official, as if something might happen.  Nothing did.  Though I called to ask for progress.  I too began to get tired with the lack of response and slightly officious tone and the superior ‘we know what we’re doing attitude…’  I was about to ‘forget’ the whole thing.

Then one day there was a scream from one of my colleagues.  Underneath her desk, by her shoe was a mouse.  Sitting there.  She wanted it gone.

We found a box.  We encouraged the mouse to get in the box. We took the box with the mouse in it to the Estates and Facilities office.  We said we’d reported that we have a mouse problem in the office.  The team weren’t particularly interested.  We said we had caught a mouse.  We said it was in the box.  They asked whether that was true. We said yes and they could have a look in the box if they wanted.  Two people jumped up onto their chairs in fright.  They asked us what we were going to do with the mouse in the box.  We said we’d let it go, outside.  We left the office to release the mouse.

The next day we came into the office to find mouse traps laid down.  What I learned from this is that there is more than one approach to take.  If you’re not having luck communicating with someone or with a team, perhaps change your approach.  Find another way to get their attention… though perhaps draw the line at bringing animals to work.

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