Three reflections on three pictures

Dunning-Kruger, divergent vs. convergent, and the surface area of luck

A picture is worth a thousand words — it’s trite, but it’s true.

Here are some quick thoughts on three graphs/pictures and corresponding ideas I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past couple of weeks:

  • The Dunning-Kruger Effect

  • Divergent and convergent thinking

  • The surface area of luck


The Dunning-Kruger Effect

What this means: Named after the researchers who identified it, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area (Dunning & Kruger, 1999). There’s a non-linear relationship between objective (accuracy) and subjective (confidence) measures.

What I've been thinking about:

  • Per this framework, imposter syndrome is essentially the valley of “I know nothing” that lives between peaks of novelty and expertise. A corollary here is that whenever we feel imposter syndrome, we’re also moving closer toward mastery (subtle reminder to self!)

  • Knowing what you don’t know (i.e. acknowledging your limitations) can be a forcing function for identifying and acknowledging what you truly do know

  • Two heuristics I’ve found useful for gauging my own expertise: can I explain it to someone in simple terms that capture the essence of the idea, and can I comfortably write about it just by referencing primary sources (e.g. research papers)?

Divergent and convergent thinking

What this means: Divergent thinking seeks to generate multiple solutions to a problem, while convergent thinking seeks to pare down options to find the best path forward.

What I've been thinking about:

  • Since the path forward is dependent on the options within a consideration set, defining the right problem to be solving is crucial for coming up with the right consideration set

  • As someone who skews more toward convergent thinking, I’ve been challenging myself to decouple divergent (ideating) and convergent (synthesizing and actioning) moments as much as possible. It’s difficult for the two to coexist simultaneously — when trying to parallel track, I find myself constraining my idea generation with reality and muddling my clarity of decision making with optionality

  • What’s the optimal tipping point between divergent and convergent? That is, at what point can you have confidence that you’ve brainstormed enough options to identify the best solution?

The surface area of luck

What this means: I love this graphic representation, as it’s a straightforward mathematical grounding of the notion that success is a function of both product and perception. A combination (5x5) of a) doing good work and b) telling others about it increases your likelihood of serendipity more than focusing purely on one or the other (10x1) ever would.

What I've been thinking about:

  • Luck and self-determination are not diametrically opposed — rather, self-determination can beget luck. In other words, you can make your own luck

  • “Telling” doesn’t come easily to me nor to many others who grew up in cultures that emphasize humility and self-effacement. Part of the reason I started writing publically (which made me incredibly uncomfortable at first) is that it’s something where “do” is inextricable from “tell”. It’s a way for me to reframe the distastefulness of personal branding while simultaneously challenging myself to create content that others can derive value from

  • How can we code switch and adopt behavior that might be aligned with institutional norms but that’s different from our ingrained values while maintaining authenticity? And moreover, in systems that expect us to act in line with our ingrained values, how can we break expectations yet still be taken seriously?


I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled Wednesday cadence next week, hopefully with some freshly developed photos of red canyons and mesas from my Southwest trip!