07/11/2013 01:02 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2013

Your Design Performance May Be Better Than You Think

Why can't everyone else see your genius and why do the experts seldom agree with you? If you are feeling misunderstood, relax, it may just be how we humans have evolved.

Performance has traditionally been attributed to intelligence, a factor with which it is only weakly linked. Quite recently, time-on-task has been recognized as a much stronger performance predictor. So, how much does your perception influence your performance and how does where you set the bar influence your judgment of yourself and others?

Recent observations of competing graduate students in an innovation course showed that weaker and stronger students set the bar very differently. Weaker students perceive other weaker students as doing better than do the stronger students, while weaker students perceive stronger students as doing worse than do the stronger students themselves. In other words, weaker students perceive the performance gap between weak and strong students to be smaller than do the stronger students.

Who is more accurate in their judgment of performance, stronger or weaker students? When asking an external expert panel to evaluate these same students, the panel judged the differences between weak and strong students to be about the same as the judgment of the stronger students. This means that weaker students have an inflated perception of their own performance and a poorer identification of the stronger students' performance, than is actually warranted. On the other hand, stronger students are more accurate in their judgment of performance quality, with their judgments quite similar to that of the external experts.

So, if you are feeling good about your performance, you may just be an overconfident weak performer, making it difficult to do something about it since you clearly do not see it that way. On the other hand, if you are a strong performer you will naturally go unappreciated and may just have to learn to live with it.

If you are performing so well, why wont the smart people recognize your achievements? Smart people, in general, do not agree on what constitutes the best performance. Comparing the performance ranking of the innovation course participants with that of the external experts showed strong disagreement on all but the top rankings, which were in line with previous studies on the experts' evaluation of design quality.

So, if you are not the absolute best, even experts will tend to disagree on your performance.

This difference in how people set the bar and their perception of what constitutes "best" has important consequences for the selection of design concepts in new product development. When no external expert panels are available and internal competing teams review, judge and select concepts, what is one to do?

One way to approach this concept evaluation predicament is by making human nature and statistics work for you. The wisdom of the crowd has been shown to provide superior results as compared with any one expert and averaging the judgment from all participants will therefore provide a superior result. So strive to include as many evaluations as possible, with as many diverse perspectives as possible to get the most accurate evaluation.

Seeing your performance as independent of others may actually be at the root of our distorted perception. So be careful next time, when judging someone else's performance, as you are probably somewhat skewed in your reasoning by virtue of your own human frailties.