Unexpectedly Intriguing!
December 23, 2015

Are you not anywhere near as capable as you make yourself out to be? If so, you might have a problem, and potentially a really big problem.

How big a problem that may be depends upon several factors:

  • What are the consequences if you continue? Do you face impending doom?
  • How competent do the people you work with think you are?
  • How competent do you really need to be to do what you do?
  • How competent are you really?
  • How good are you at faking being competent?
  • How long have you been faking being competent?

Geek Logik author Garth Sundem has considered these questions, and describes how they might come into play in a work setting:

On your resumé it states "expert in protein-structure analysis," a phrase you heard once on the Discovery Channel. Originally, you though it did a good job of filling the white space under "other skills" and never thought your knowledge of crystallography would be tested while you were working at Blockbuster. But now your manager wants you to categorize this month's new movies based on their homologous superfamily and/or CATH designation and you're thinking "online gaming" would have been a beter choice as resumé filler. However, you're pretty sure your manager can't tell an orthogonal prism from an alpha solenoid, so you might get away with faking it. On the other hand, someone likely had this same thought just before the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Clearly, this is the kind of situation that would only arise if you lacked the integrity to be honest about your capabilities in the first place. But since you already have problems with your integrity, you now have a choice: should you continue your bluff or should you finally come clean and admit your incompetence before things spiral out of control for you?

Fortunately for you, Garth Sundem has put those ethical questions into algebraic form, which we've turned into a tool to do the math for you! All you need to do is to rank yourself on each of the following questions, which Garth has expressed by incorporating a more serious surgical scenario, and we'll help you determine how you'll deal with the problem that is entirely of your own making.

If you're reading this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, click here to access a working version of this tool!

Assessment of Incompetence
Input Data Values
What is the level of impending doom should this task fail?
[1-10, with 10 being "the patient is prepped and the scalpel is in my hand."]
What is the level of proficiency that your boss or coworkers expect of you?
[1-10, with 10 being "claim to have pioneered new surgical procedure called the Bilateral Invasive Colonic Hitch (BICH) and the surgical team believes this has something to do with the patient's chronic back pain."]
What is the level of proficiency needed to complete the task?
[1-10, with 10 being "required expertise in anatomical organization of the lumbar sympathetic nervous system."]
What is your actual level of proficiency for performing the task?
[1-10, with 1 being "that's the lower back, right?"]
What is your ability to bluff?
[1-10, with 10 being "known as Iceman on World Poker Tour."]
How deep into your bluff are you?
[1-10, with 10 being "remembering the game Operation and have successfully removed things without setting off the buzzer."]

Should You Admit Your Incompetence Or Continue Faking Control?
Calculated Results Values
Incompetence Index
The Bottom Line

At this point, we can't help but think of Dave Foley's classic comedic performance in "The Doctor" sketch from the Kids in the Hall:

While these scenarios may seem far fetched, the truth is they are all too common, as the lack of meaningful consequences encourages the unethical behavior. Just consider the case of the less than capable econometrician who effectively made themselves into the economics equivalent of a climate change denier just so they could both avoid losing face and sustain their error-laden, invalid, pseudoscientific analyses, or the more serious cases of the Environmental Protection Administration's top climate expert who claimed to be a spy for the CIA for a decade, or the phony records that allowed the staff of the Department of Veterans Affairs to claim big bonuses for providing care they never delivered.

This tool is for them!

Guest post contributed by Alec Chìnn.

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Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

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