We all know the advice of creatively changing lemons into lemonade. However, a story about lemon juice offers us another valuable lesson.
This story begins with a man robbing two banks in one day without wearing a mask or a disguise. When the Pittsburgh police arrested him, he was shocked and told the officers, “but I wore the juice.” He had coated his face with lemon juice and, therefore, confidently assumed his face would be invisible. This assumption stemmed from his knowledge that lemon juice created invisible ink, so he concluded lemon juice would obscure his face.
He is not the only individual who combined incredibly incomplete knowledge combined with faulty logic to act unwisely. Oblivious to their narrow perspective, parents in Lake Wobegon assume everyone in their town has above average intelligence. They are not alone. Bad drivers assume they excel, high school performers consider themselves ready for Broadway, and 94% of professors consider themselves above average. My favorite was a forger who tried to pass a US $1,000.00 bill at a grocery store. He was shocked the cashier was not willing to provide change. Luckily she knew the largest denomination of currency in the US is $100.
After we chuckle at these obviously implausible actions, we need to evaluate our own thinking practices. Are we fully aware of opportunities, risks, and creative solutions?
Underperformers consistently overestimate themselves, and high performers regularly underestimate themselves. Getting it right is rare, and getting it wrong is costly.
This is not a new phenomenon. Charles Darwin wrote, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Given these pervasive misperceptions, we need to re-examine our abilities to assess contextual awareness, conduct disciplined analysis, and employ rigorous scrutiny.
In the era of the knowledge worker, we must ensure better thinking, comprehensive data collection, and effective analysis. Leaders must shift their expectations from providing all the right answers to asking all the right questions.
Consider the following: Do you accept that what you see on the surface is not all that there is to see? Are you rewarding those who ask tough questions? Are you developing your staff’s critical thinking skills? Do you use a checklist to prevent overlooking key factors?
As Mark Twain noted:
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
The Pittsburgh thief paid a high price for not knowing more about lemon juice.