I Just Got Dunning-Krugeeeeerd!!!
So there’s this interesting study that reveals something that most people know in their guts already. I think it’s where the “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” phrase comes from. People who nit-pick a football coach’s decisions from the night before can inflate their own sense of competence and start to believe that if THEY were the coach they’d do a far better job of it. (Even though they don't have the experience or have any clue as to all the considerations a coach has to have) I see this first hand on the forums for the game I work on as well. People thinking if we “just” tweaked this one element or another, “simply” changed some code, or “finally” started listening to the players and stopped lying and cheating and all the other dastardly things us developers do, our game could finally stop being such a giant bag of crap. On a side note our Studio Design Director (Who I’ve come to respect quite a lot recently) started an initiative on our forums specifically for engaging with players and helping to get our various leads communicating with them on a regular basis, articulating our design fundamentals and aesthetics and trying to incorporate what we can from the community into our design. So he shares my community philosophy, which is neat.
But back to Dunning-Kruger. From the Wiki page on it:
“The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.”
Now just because I’m regularly victimized by this cognitive bias doesn't mean I can’t make the same mistake. And boy did I ever. To be fair, it wasn't ONLY Dunning-Kruger, but my old friend Planning Fallacy too. But that one is my constant companion and not worth further comment at this time.
The reason I’m calling D-K on myself is because I did not expect it at all. Here’s what happened. I’m in a marketing meeting for a content release I’m coordinating. This content features a giant monster Wurm boss, and someone mentions giant gummy worms. Sometimes our marketing team likes to send funny things to the press for publicity, and this ideas was floated for that. I pipe up and say I could sculpt a giant gummy worm that actually looks like our game monster, not just a generic tube shaped worm. I said I’d do a little research and see what it would take. I do my little bit of research and determine that the mold making material would be around $300. Our marketing guy says that’s reasonable. I was going to do this project at home, make a bunch of cool giant gummy wurms to ship to various press outlets, and then bask in the hilarious coverage we’d get. I didn’t have a particular number of hours of homework guestimated, but I had over a month to do it, so I wasn’t worried. Oh, but I should have been!
I decided to log the hours I spent on this project at the end of each day in case I could be compensated for my time, I’d have billable hours. (HA!) Now, I’ve made my share of sculptures, molds and castings. Been doing it for over ten years. I’m familiar with all the elements. Here’s what was new: the size of the sculpt/mold, and casting gelatin. Didn't seem particularly out of scope to learn those things as I went. In fact, I was so confident I decided I might as well film the process and make a fun video tutorial. FUN!
I started the project on December 13th. Three weeks later and about $400 in, I was at my wits end. I had put in 68 hours, made the sculpture, poured a nice 4-part mold with a cool $230 worth of silicone, and then it leaked. If a mold leaks you can’t cast anything in it. I had tried to patch the mold with a variety of desperate measures. (For the record, I don’t think there’s a way to patch platinum based silicone. If anyone knows of one please tell me!) Having put in far more time and money than I had anticipated, (not to mention the psychic pressure both given and received from my family) I was in a foul mood. My brain was just running over and over how I could salvage the project AND the video tutorial. I had already filmed several variant methods and kept having to re-evaluate how I would edit it all together to make it both useful, and make me look like a non-idiot. If I had just dropped the tutorial aspect of the project I could have been far less stressed. But at that point the Sunk Cost Fallacy had me firmly by the neck. I felt like I HAD to have this video as my consolation prize for how hard this was becoming.
Over the next week I climbed to 84 hours and another hundred or so dollars. And I found myself losing my temper. I was NOT nice to be around. At that point I realized I was having a moral failure. So I took a step back and forced myself to re-evaluate. No silly project is worth making my family sad and stressed. My self analysis revealed that the reason I was so stressed was not the time or money spent, or how the deadline was fast approaching. (although those factors didn’t help.) It was that all the video editing strategies I was concocting where dishonest. I was feeling so much pressure to produce this tutorial that I had lost the POINT of a tutorial, which is to deliver accurate and useful information. All my crazy editing schemes designed to save my progress would have portrayed a reality that had not existed. It was my ethical intuition jabbing my soul that was making me feel and act so terribly.
But, the only way to salvage the project was not to salvage it, but to scrap it and start all over. This meant at least another 84 hours and several hundred dollars. However, I found that when I came to an understanding with my conscience, any price is worth it. I figured there was a good chance that I would not be reimbursed at this point since I’d gone so far over what I had said it would cost, but that I would consider that a stiff fine to remind me of my foolish lack of forethought and the price of hubris blinding me to the unknown realities. So on January 13th, one month in, I decided to start over. Even though the amount of rework was daunting, I felt so much better about everything. I re-sculpted, re-molded and re-shot the tutorial, incorporating my new experience to make sure my tutorial was actually valid, accurate, and honest.
That took me until the end of January. Here’s a fun sample of my time: Friday night the 17th, I come home at around 7pm and worked for 7 hours on the Wurm. Collapse. Wake up Saturday and take it easy, only working 4 hours. Sunday I realize I’m not going to make it at this rate and work on it for 12 hours. Seriously. The next week is Mon: 2 hours, Tues: 4 hours, Wed: 5 hours, Thurs: 4 hours, Friday HAD TO TAKE A BREAK!, Sat: 8 hours, Sun: 6 hours. The next weekend of Feb 1st and 2nd I put in 20 hours. And so on and so forth until I finally finished in the nick of time to get the Wurms out for Valentine’s Day. On Feb 13th, the Wednesday before I had to have the video out, I came home from work and did a 14 hour editing session through the night.
Grand total: 135 hours of my free time over the course of 8 weeks, and a little under quadruple what I had initially thought it would cost. (the price is obviously inflated due to having to do the whole thing twice.)
So in this postmortem I’m looking back over the numbers, recounting the mistakes and hopefully learning from them. It’s kind of a weird thing. You know how you can feel like Murphy's Law is ruining your plans? The adage goes: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” And it’s always an exaggeration. Except on this project it was not an exaggeration. I literally went through a list of every step I did and every single one had to be done twice, and several of them required over 4 repeats. (I had to figure out how to cook the green jello without burning it 6 times!) Oven stopped working, stores ran out of plaster, bulk gelatin supplier took 2 weeks to get me the package, mold leaked, mother mold broke 3 times, ran out of cooking supplies in the middle of a cook… 3 times! and on and on. So, it is not with any great pride, but great relief that I finally presented my video tutorial. And it was a big hit! Everyone loved it. (Except for that one guy who said I was a fat emo hipster.) ArenaNet put it on their facebook page and now it’s got over 13,000 views. (About 20 times more than any other video I’ve put up.)
And I sit back and wonder… WILL I actually learn anything from this? CAN I defeat the combined forces of Dunning-Kruger, Murphy, Sunk Cost and Planning Fallacies, and my own hubris? Time will tell. One procedural thing I KNOW I will take away from this is recording my time spent on projects. It’s much easier to lie to myself about how long something will take if there’s only foggy recollections of previous projects to go on, rather than the cold, sobering data that a written record provides.