The Peak of Mount Stupid

Mar 28, 2023 | Blog

The Peak of Mount Stupid

How Acute Periods of Personal Success Exacerbate the Dunning-Kruger Effect

In 1999, I sold over $24M in software and $68M in services, achieving over 800% of my target.

In 2000, I, according to me, was the most talented sales professional I knew…and maybe ever.

In 2001, with help from a recession, I realized that I was in the right place at the right time in 1999, and in reality, I knew very little.

Also in 1999, Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University released a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology titled, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” (aka, what is now known as The Dunning–Kruger effect).

Header image of the study from Dunning & Kruger in 1999

Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1121-1134.

“The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge”.

There is nothing like an acute case of success, followed by an economic downturn to open your eyes to reality. I’m seeing this throughout LinkedIn right now.

Economic periods of rapidly accelerated growth, throughout history, have created multiple instances where many experience a Dunning-Kruger-like effect:

  • Said market growth creates a period of acute personal success, especially when driven by an acute market need. It perches us up onto what the journals refer to as “The Peak of Mount Stupid” – I became a guru in my own mind, the height of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
  • A market downturn drives us into what the journals refer to as the “Valley of Despair”, or a period of self-actualization – I was struggling, and managed to get laid-off in November of 2001.

Then – the process truly begins. Focused growth. Intentional career pathing. Eventually sustained success. It happened to me – it’s where my nerdery began to blossom.

My 800%+ growth year doesn’t even appear on any resume of mine anymore, because in hindsight, the solution I was selling was viewed as a “do this or else” as the experts were predicting a technology catastrophe. When systems relied on dates that were coded with just two digits (i.e., 1999 coded as just “99”), the fear was based on the theory that when the calendar switched to January 1st, 2000, the two-digit date of “00” would cause systems to essentially implode, shut down, and even worse, shut down entire businesses. Overhauling their internal systems was urgent…and I happened to be in a company that did just that!

In other words, I was selling in an environment that was like working at a drive-thru window. Individuals were driving up and practically throwing their money in the window. Now it seems obvious. Back then, I thought it was because I was awesome. The Peak of Mount Stupid.

Know where you are…

As the economy has reached its fourth iteration in the past three years, selling has gotten harder. You may be staring down the end of another quarter of struggle, maybe you’ve been laid off, and your attempts to recapture the magic of 2021 is fleeting. Self-actualization is a good thing! As you can see from the chart, the “Valley of Despair” has more “competence” than the “Peak of Mount Stupid”, because you’re now smarter and more experienced.

Be honest and transparent with yourself, and you can then begin to make the right investments for sustained success!

If you believe you are a guru (and maybe posting daily like one), be careful! I see many that are leading with, “I grew X company from $XXX,XXX to $XXX,XXX,XXX“, followed by an explanation of why what you did is a magic bullet. My nerdy Dunning Kruger understanding and personal experience radar goes into high alert. Spend a moment and think about it. Be transparent with yourself!

I’m old. Following 2001, I went on the “Slope of Enlightenment”, and in the 2010s, felt as though I’d reached sustained success. I teach and speak about it now, but I’M NO GURU! I read every day. I study research, history and try different approaches based on that study. I post new learnings, connections, and realizations matched up against my experiences…the good and the bad, that I hope you can use for sustained growth and success. I hope I’m never done learning.

Transparency wins…even with yourself!


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I speak and teach revenue organizations on how to leverage transparency and decision science to maximize their revenue capacity. It’s what I do…teach sellers, their leaders, and really entire revenue organizations the how we as human beings make decisions, then how to use that knowledge for good (not evil) in their messaging (informal and formal), negotiations and revenue leadership. I wrote a 3x award-winning book (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘺 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘦), and have a newish book out (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘦𝘴 𝘓𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘦𝘳) now that just won its first award!

Reach out if you want to discuss The Transparency Sale sales methodology, or really…anything else (sales kickoffs, workshopskeynotes, the economy, history, etc.)! Email info@toddcaponi.com or call 847-999-0420.

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