Making it work

Suffering from unconscious incompetence?

By Gerald McGroarty,

Comments (5)

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?

Image of a woman in a classroom developing new skills.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!

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Bill McEachern on

Wasn’t this model proposed by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin?

    Gerald McGroarty on

    Thanks for throwing Pierre’s name out there Bill. It’s tough to find out who actually developed it (although you could be correct). Some say it was Noel Burch (1970’s) others say it’s a concept that’s morphed its way into a catch-phrase concept. If it was Pierre, he certainly predates the 1970’s. Ironically, the fact that I don’t know makes me Unconscious Incompetent on the subject – go figure. Thanks again.

      Bill McEachern on

      I did a quick search to try and confirm it but I didn’t get much. I recall reading this in more than a few books and Pierre’s name is the name I remember. However, I could be having a senior moment but I am pretty sure he has been credited with this observation on the steps to mastery.

joemanhas on

Its not really about Conscious competence or UN-Conscious competence, really its information over load nowadays and the majority of us now have A.D.D. or some sorta form of O.C.D. blaim it on Google..

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