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'Insight,' Self-Awareness, and the Academic

Are academics less self-aware than others?

November 7, 2017
 
 

Insight: Why We're Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life by Tasha Eurich

Published in May of 2017.

"Ninety-four percent of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills.”

David Brooks, The Modesty Manifesto.

What would Homo Academicus make of Tasha Eurich’s insightful new book Insight? Ideally, Insight should have us all deeply worried. Realistically, maybe not so much.

Turns out that most everyone believes that they possess self-insight.  95 percent of those surveyed by Eurich report that they know themselves. When tested, the true figure is closer to 15 percent.  

What percentage of our fellow academics will report great skills in self-knowledge?

My strong suspicion is is that the gap in reported and actual self-knowledge will be greater in the academic population, as compared to a random sample. Academia, after all, selects for self-delusion.  Why else would any sane person enter a profession where there are manifestly so many fewer jobs than qualified job seekers?

Eurich makes her living as an organizational consultant.  The stories that she tells in Insight of businesses derailed by the shocking lack of self-awareness of bosses and managers make good fun reading.  It is always reassuring to read about organizational dysfunction in organizations beyond higher education.

The central paradox that lies at the heart of Insight is that the qualities that often select for professional success are also those qualities that are least compatible with self-awareness.  Is it an accident that so many people in positions of authority are so clueless about how they treat others?

I leave the question of whether academic leaders are more or less likely than their non-academic counterparts to suffer from an absence of insight to you. 

Reading Insight has convinced me that trusting my own mental inventory would likely be foolish.  After a year of being so wrong about everything I though that I knew - from edtech to Trump - my own lack of insight does not come as much of a surprise.

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