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I don’t even know what I don’t know!


One of the greatest concepts that I ever learned about was the “Four Phases of Competence” (actually titled as “Four Phases of Learning”, but I believe competence is a much better descriptor, and much more universal).  Recently as a new business owner I have been able to experience these on my own, very quickly and often might I add, and am thankful to have a knowledge and understanding of them.  Almost daily I run in to something that I look at and say, “Wow, I didn’t even know that!”  And thus I have moved from one phase in to another, that easily!  For anyone that owns their own business or is in a senior position, I’m confident that you know the feeling.  Someone from advertising and marketing, or from finance, or another department comes around and tells you something that they believe that you absolutely MUST know…obviously through the magical osmosis process bestowed upon you when you started your business or took your position.

What many people fail to realize is that there is a process to becoming competent in anything that you do.  That process may move faster or slower for one person than for another, but none-the-less it typically follows the same path.  There are four phases to this process, starting with “Unconsciously Incompetent”.  This is probably the time when you will get a good laugh, and in most cases you can find more than one way to use this in a joke (trust me, been there, done that!).  The truth is that this is really an easy phase to explain.  Are you aware that kangaroo’s are excellent swimmers?  What about the fact that there are more living organisims on then skin of a single human being than there are human beings on the surface of the earth?  You didn’t?  Then you were experiencing the state of being “Unconsciously Incompetent”. 

However, just by me telling you about these facts you have made the great and mighty journey from “Unconsciously Incompetent” to “Consciously Incompetent”.  This means that now you are aware that you didn’t know something.  As soon as you become aware of something that you didn’t know, you have the opportunity to and choice of whether or not to continue to pursue your gain of knowledge on the subject or to let it pass you by.  Think of the implications of this on your every day life!  This is one of the things that drives me personally to educate myself every chance I get on as many topics as possible.  Even more important, think about what this means to your business, your employees, and your customers and clients! 

So let’s say that once you are aware that you didn’t know something, you begin educating yourself in the subject in whatever manner you choose (self-study, read a book, formal education, talk to someone, etc.).  Your next goal needs to be to understand the topic, and any related processes and/or procedures, and be able to explain them to someone else.  This is where testing comes in for most situations.  Many of us will learn something, and the first chance we get we want to tell someone else about it, show them how to do it, or in some way utilize the skills immediately.  Be honest, how many times have you done that!  This phase is “Consciously Competent”.  At this point you not only know how, but you can explain it to someone else.  In some situations, you may stay in this phase (say as a teacher, or coach).  This is where many people find themselves as leaders in any situation.  You have to not only be good at what you do, but be able to teach someone else the steps in it, and help guide them through the “Four Phases” as well. 

The last phase is called “Unconsciously Competent”.  This is the time when you don’t really think about what you are doing, you just do it.  Think about tying your shoe, making a peanut-butter sandwich, or driving a stick-shift car: you don’t think about each step, you just do them.  And if you were to try to teach someone else how to do these things, you would find that it can be quite challenging.  My favorite example is the peanut-butter sandwich.  It’s used in many ways, and with all ages and education levels.  Try asking one or more people to construct all of the steps in making a peanut-butter sandwich, that someone can follow step-by-step successfully.  Believe me, it’s not as easy as one might think (I actually had a colleague put together a more than 84 step process for this!)!  This last phase can be extremely important when determining who will be teaching someone in you business how to do what they do (say in a mentor situation), or educating a customer on a product.  Just because someone is great at doing something, or knows a lot about it does not necessarily mean that they can convey that to someone else.

Needless to say, this concept is important to what I do in my career.  But I find it interesting to find myself going through these phases in the daily workings of my business, as a new Dad (my son is almost 1), and in many other areas of my life.  Hopefully this sheds some light on some situations that you are now, or have, gone through.  And if this concept is one that you weren’t aware of before, congratulations!  You are now on your way to being “Consciously Competent”!

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