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Tuesday, 26 July 2011 02:06

Dear PR person: we're not stupid; don't assume we are

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I read with some interest of the 'stuff-up' at New Zealand telco 2degrees where a software upgrade caused calls and SMSs to be delivered to the wrong handsets.  As bad as that was, of more interest was the PR response.

Allow me to "cut to the chase" and deliver the line in contention right at the start.

When asked how difficult it might be to identify (and apologise to) the affected senders and receivers of the incorrectly routed communications, 2degrees spokesperson Michael Bouliane said, "Its quite complicated to find the number of customers who sent texts and look at the numbers that received the texts and do the cross referencing - it's very technical."

Whaddayamean "it's very technical?"

Just because YOU don't understand, doesn't mean the rest of us are clueless.

Surely it's an easy matter to identify those calls and messages sent during the period in error and locate the recipients.  How hard is it?

Too often, stupid people in the IT industry are wont to believe both that they are smarter than they really are and that they're definitely smarter than "the average bear."  This is a classic case of people assuming smarts in areas outside their area of expertise.  Just because Bouliane thinks it's a hard task, doesn't mean that it is. 

In fact, here we have a slight variation of the Dunning-Kruger Effect which observes (and I paraphrase) that the less competent one is, the greater one's assessment of one's abilities.  In Bouliane's case, he is clearly assuming that because he doesn't understand the problem, no-one else will either.

For those readers not willing to read the linked article, the Dunning-Kruger effect is based upon work done by Justin Kruger and David Dunning who found through repeated experiments that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

1.tend to overestimate their own level of skill;

2.fail to recognize genuine skill in others;

3.fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;

4.recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.

We also see this effect manifest in our political leaders (of both persuasions!) with the obvious exception of item 4 above - they simply cannot be trained by any means!  In illustration, I offer the climate change debate as a perfect example.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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