I don’t remember when or where I first heard about the learning model where being consciously incompetent is one of the four stages. In some ways it surprises me how many people have not heard of the four stages of competence and then after they’ve learned about it – how excited they are by the ideas in it. Even a refresher on the ideas can be revitalizing – the model is a reminder that learning is a process. Some of us can fall into making critical judgments about ourselves and that is dismissive of how our mistakes are critical to the process – it’s a way to learn and become unconsciously competent – where we have mastered the skill and knowledge we wanted.
The first stage is unconscious incompetence. When you don’t know what you don’t know you’re in this stage. It could be that you recognize a skill in someone else, yet are dismissive of the usefulness of it. In order to move onto the next stage, you must recognize – become conscious – of both your own lack of skill and the value of learning it.
From there, you move into conscious incompetence, the second stage. You’re aware of the deficits and have little knowledge or skill yet. This is a time when you’re likely to make lots of mistakes – and making those mistakes can be important to moving through this stage. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn – as trite as that might sound! Another way to consider this is how part of what you’re doing in this stage is practicing. We’ve all heard how “practice makes perfect” (though please don’t actually try to be perfect). What we’re working on in this stage is becoming competent.
The third stage is conscious competence. You have gained the knowledge and skill though you have to think about it and probably need to concentrate in order to execute it. You might need to have all the steps broken down or have more detailed processes at this point in your learning. You are still making mistakes in this stage, though they are on the decline. The effort to demonstrate the skills can be time and energy consuming – more than what’ll be needed in the last stage.
Unconscious competence is the last of the learning stages. This is where you have mastered the skill to the point that you no longer need to concentrate to make sure it’s done correctly. Mistakes are few and far between. When you’re at this stage, you have the skills and knowledge to teach others.
As you can see, learning something new takes time as you move through these stages – and only when you’ve reached the final stage are mistakes negligible. How realistic is it to think that you can gain the skills without a learning curve? Heck, how perfect are you trying to be? The time it takes each of us to move from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence is unique to us.
Once you know about these stages you can consider where you are in the process. Despite the fact that many people seem to believe that organizing should be simple and easy – doesn’t make it so for everyone. Let me clear, organizing is a skill like anything else – it is something anyone can learn. It’s also not knowledge we’re automatically born with – we learn it just like driving a car or anything else. Organizing is something that can have many variables – many opinions about the way to do it (or the best way). This means you have that much more to learn – more time in the middle stages before you reach the unconscious competence stage.
Therefore consider whatever it is you’re trying to develop the skills and knowledge about – what is the complexity level? Where are you in the stages of learning? To some extent, our lives are a constant state of learning – at least it can be. Therefore, if we consider the stages of learning in combination with how we can continue to learn – we have a way to gain perspective. Each and every one of us goes through all four stages – no one is exempt.
The Four Stages of Learning
Setting goals for yourself and trying to create new habits could be considered you learning through these same stages – how to move from resistance, to planning, to action and practice, and each step that will take you to the final goal of it becoming a routine that requires little thought. What do you think – do you see a connection between the stages of learning and your desire to make changes in your life?