Moving from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence

Based on The Conscious Competence Learning Model, Change at an Organizational and Individual level starts at a point where we are unaware of how bad our current state is and therefore operate at an unconscious incompetence level. In this state, you may be in one of two positions;

  • Blissfully Ignorant and Happily Naive, not realizing that you are not competent
  • A faking state, where you believe you are competent, and either do not realize that you are in this state or are covering up your incompetence

Checklist for the Unconscious Incompetence stage;

  • Unaware of the existence or relevance of the Change
  • Unaware that you have a particular deficiency in the area concerned
  • In denial the relevance or usefulness of the Change
  • Resistant to technology and a new way of operating
  • Quick to justifying their approach despite it being backdated and unpopular
  • Making great losses or not operating at optimum level

The transition from being Unconsciously Incompetent to being consciously incompetent begins with the realization and acceptance that you are not as great as you perceived yourself to be and that there is room for improvement. This transition can be shocking and sudden. Most of the time it is caused by a new regulation that clearly stipulates the standard way of operating or a performance vs. strategic objectives evaluation. It is at this stage that organizations/individuals seek for the help of a Consultant or Coach. While this is a step in the right direction, it is possible to exist in this state for a long time, depending on factors such as your determination to learn and the real extent to which you accept your incompetence.

Checklist for the Conscious Incompetence stage;

  • Aware of the existence and relevance of the change needed
  • Aware of their deficiency in this area and to what extent their resistance has impacted on their efficiency
  • Aware that by improving their way of doing things then their effectiveness will improve
  • Ready to make a commitment to learn a new way of operating and to move to a ‘Conscious competence’ stage
  • Ready to seek help from an expert

Becoming consciously competent often takes a while, as you steadily learn about the new area, either through experience or more formal learning. This process can go in fits and starts as you learn, forget, plateau and start anew.

The more complex the new area and the less talent you have for it, the longer this will take. The good news is that many people have achieved remarkable feats of learning through sheer persistence.

Checklist for the Conscious Competence stage;

  • Achieve ‘conscious competence’ in a skill when they can perform it reliably at will
  • Need to concentrate and think in order to operate in this new way
  • Be able to perform the skill without assistance
  • Only practice the Change when they make a deliberate decision to – the skill is not yet ‘second nature’ or ‘automatic’
  • Able to demonstrate the change to another, but unlikely to be able to teach it well to another person
  • At this stage, one should ideally continue to practice the new skill, and if appropriate commit to becoming ‘unconsciously competent’ at the new way of operating
  • Practice is the single most effective way to move from stage 3 to 4

Eventually you reach a point where you no longer have to think about what you are doing, and are competent without the significant effort that characterizes the state of conscious competence. At this stage you become unconsciously competent;

The new way of operating becomes so practiced that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain – it becomes ‘second nature’. This arguably gives rise to the need for long-standing unconscious competence to be checked periodically against new standards.