Kool Derby

Every person and every business must be concerned about incompetence. I once heard someone define incompetence as not knowing that you don’t know. In other words, you keep moving forward, often making the same mistakes, but you are unaware that your approach is wrong. As anyone can tell, this is a problem.

Seeking Knowledge

As a college professor, I have the opportunity to work with many smart people. My colleagues are talented, and many of my students bring a ton of talent to the classroom. In fact, I often take the time to speak with fellow professors and students during breaks, after class, over coffee, and on the telephone. I’m amazed how much specialized knowledge they have, and I understand that it only takes a few tips to make a big difference.

Incompetence at Work

There are times, however, when I am surprised by someone’s incompetence. While we all make mistakes, and sometimes the errors arise because we are naïve, the point here is that incompetent people actually think they are right, despite the abundance of data to prove them wrong.

While grading a paper recently, which required references (or research), I observed a student typed the following on the page where sources are listed:

There are no references for me to list. I’ve been in business for more than 15 years, and no one knows this stuff better than me. I guess you can say that I’m the best person to know what goes on in my company, and in this industry. I guess I’m fortunate in that way.


When I read a comment like this, the best approach is to take a step back, and perhaps even give it a night before responding. Dan feels there is nothing more to learn. If so, why is he attempting to earn an undergraduate degree? If he is by far the smartest person on the planet in his field, why waste his time learning from others?

My Response to Dan

After taking the time to absorb his comment, it was important that I craft a response, and here it is:

Dan –

I had the opportunity to read your assignment, and I was impressed with the content. In fact, your professional experience is tremendous. You have many years in the fast food franchise industry, and many of us can learn from you.

In the Reference page, I noted that you did not include any sources. I understand the level of experience you have, but the requirement is to consider the best practices of other experts in the field. From my experience with franchise ownership, I know we can learn from others.

Failing to include the references will result in a 20% deduction on your paper. In future assignments, please make sure to follow the guidelines and study what others are doing in the market. I’m sure this will be a beneficial exercise for you.

I am here to help you. If anything comes up, please let me know.

Dr. Flores

Dan was not very happy with my response. In fact, he complained to his student advisor about my approach. As the issue escalated, Dan was reminded that education is a lifelong journey, and he should be open to new ideas. From what I know, Dan completed his degree program, and I hope the lesson he learned in my class was important. In other words, the goal was to move him from incompetent to competent.

For some, this transition is harder than for others.