I’ve been called many things, but “Doctor” isn’t one of them. However, today I dish out a dose of reality served up with a little TLC.
How many times have you watched someone perform a task and thought to yourself, “That person has no clue”? I would guess it’s often. But in the next instant, you see someone else pull off the same task with relative ease. How?
When it comes to developing and mastering a new set of skills, we all suffer from a condition called “unconscious incompetence.” That’s the bad news. The good news is we also possess the antidote – it’s called “conscious competence.” How to get from incompetence to competence is a perfect way to become more effective in anything you attempt to do, and it’s today’s focus.
Regardless of the task or skill, we all go through a learning process that takes us from not knowing to proficiency.
The conscious competence learning model is not new. Developed as a formal model 40 years ago, it’s based on human nature. The model is simple: We learn any new skill in four stages:
Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence
This is when we are not aware of the existence or relevance of a skill, or that we’re deficient in the skill area. We may also not see the relevance or usefulness of a skill, and dismiss it. “Oblivious” could describe us in stage one.
- Symptoms: Inexperience, naiveté, immaturity or (technically speaking) cluelessness.
- Remedy: There isn’t one. Understandably, at this stage we don’t have a clue.
Stage 2: Conscious incompetence
We move into this state when we become aware of the existence of a particular skill or that we have a deficiency in a skill. We often figure this out when we try something new such as snowboarding, or we’re introduced to new technology. We move into this state when we realize that if we improve the area of deficiency in a new skill we will become more effective.
- Symptoms: Awareness, knowledge, interest or (technically speaking) the a-ha! moment.
- Remedy: Accepting the fact that a deficiency exists and welcoming the opportunity to learn.
Stage 3: Conscious competence
We begin to achieve conscious competence when we can perform or demonstrate a skill reasonably well. We still have to think about it, but we don’t need a lot of assistance to execute it. Golf is a great example. We can hit the ball well (broadly defined), but we still mentally rehearse the proper swing technique when we approach the shot.
- Symptoms: Strong skill development, continuous improvement, ability to demonstrate skill or (technically speaking) “I might actually be good at this.”
- Remedy: Practice is the most effective way to move from stage three to stage four.
Stage 4: Unconscious competence
We’ve reached this stage when executing the skill becomes second nature. It’s like riding a bike or driving a car – the subconscious almost takes over and the skill execution is automatic. At this stage, we can not only perform the skill, but also do other things at the same time.
- Symptoms: Ability to multi-task, ability to teach the skill or (technically speaking) “I could do this with my eyes closed.”
- Remedy: The only concern at this stage is to check whether we’ve missed an opportunity to learn still more. Often we master a skill, but with new technology or innovation, we can develop it even further.
I hope this is a prescription that will help you understand yourself and others better. It will certainly provide you with some great one-liners the next time someone asks you, “Do you know what you’re doing?”
Have a great day!