Illusion of competence


Competence is considered the ability to execute something successfully while an illusion is a deceptive impression of something. It therefore follows that an illusion of competence occurs when there is a deceptive impression of one’s ability to successfully execute something. This is especially true in the current world of information overload.

The illusion of competence can occur consciously or subconsciously; we either think we are competent at something just because we have read about it somewhere or heard about it somewhere or we might not realise that we are subconsciously misleading ourselves thinking we are competent at something.

An unorthodox example of the illusion of competence is gossip. We hear things about other people that we have no tangible proof about, yet we go around speaking about whatever we heard with all conviction.


We, at that moment, consider ourselves competently informed about the lives of other people just because ‘so and so said it’.

Let me move on to a more orthodox example. We have resources at hand on the internet, social media, e-books and news all over but we fail to utilise these resources. We do not apply any critical thinking or critical action; we assume that just having the knowledge ‘pass by’ in our minds has done the trick.

The illusion of competence is the gap between knowledge and implementation. We know but do not act accordingly or we think because we know we can compete with or do better than those who are actually competent. It is a two-fold case.


I alluded earlier to the fact that the illusion of competence is more rampant in the era of information overload that we are living in. By the time I wake up every morning, my phone has various notifications from various apps and groups accounting various things: News, work updates, personal updates, social updates and the like. Within 30 minutes of one checking one’s phone, a lot of information that previously would have taken weeks to be consolidated has been digested.

In the past, we would wait a day of two to know what happened at an event, or a court or Parliament. And by that time we would have the summary of events in newspapers and on TV.

Nowadays we get tweets as things are happening coupled with visuals that give an almost live impression of the situation on that ground. You might be in Russia but are able to follow important news happening in Malawi.

The point is, information nowadays in accessible quickly and with ready aides.

That is why we have a lot of Monday morning coaches and news and political analysts now because people think when information has ‘passed by’ their minds then they are suddenly skilled at that particular issue.

That is why we have a lot of resources and knowledge but projects are not moving. That is why we talk the talk but do not walk the talk. That is why we are arrogant but have nothing to show for our arrogance. That is why we think titles and accolades alone do the trick and we spend more time acquiring them than actually being competent. That is why we load our graduates with theory and no practical work and label them competent.

Even in our religious lives, we operate the same way. We think going to church or the mosque or whichever religious institution and listening to all the right messages makes us religious, but we fail to embody the actual terms of living as a religious person—be it consciously or subconsciously.

Let us be weary of the illusion of competence, lest we continuously deceive ourselves instead of making actual progress and gaining actual competence where it counts.

I rest my case.

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