The four stages of competence
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
Master Lao Tzu, Chinese Taoist Philosopher, founder of Taoism
This quote is one of my favorites, and I've experienced its message on multiple occasions. I've learned some painful lessons – personally, professionally and financially – but I’m better for these experiences, both the good and the bad.
You get to a certain point in your life where you don’t want to learn any more lessons, but the reality is that we all continue to learn throughout our lives, whether we want to or not.
It’s imperative to continually learn and upgrade your skills, both personally and professionally, or risk the very real possibility of becoming obsolete. I’ve been extremely fortunate that I’ve had people willing to “mentor” me since I first started in the business world back in the early 80’s, some knowingly and many more unknowingly.
The important thing to remember is that there are people we can learn from and spare ourselves the inevitable brain damage of doing things the hard way. By availing ourselves of the lessons from these teachers, we can shorten the amount of time and energy it takes to become successful.
It is no longer enough to just work on your professional skills, although that is certainly an important priority in today’s market climate; but these skills alone will not help you to achieve what you’re capable of achieving.
One of the most important self-improvement/self-development concepts/lessons that I’ve learned is the “Four Stages of Learning” (also known as “The Four Stages of Competence”), a theory posited by psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940’s (although it does NOT appear in his major works), and is also regularly attributed to Noel Burch, an employee of Gordon Training International in the 1970’s when it was described as “The Four Stages for Leaning Any New Skill."
Here is a brief explanation/overview of “The Four Stages”:
1. Unconscious Incompetence: This stage can be simply described as “You DON’T know what you DON’T know." Assuming that you are willing to learn, you don’t stay in this stage for an extended period of time.
2. Conscious Incompetence: You don’t understand or know “how” to do something, but you do recognize that the deficit exists.
3. Conscious Competence: You understand or know the “how”, but demonstrating this skill or knowledge requires your concentration.
4. Unconscious Competence: You have had so much “practice” that the skill or knowledge becomes “second nature” and can be performed easily.
Aspire to master the skills and knowledge to become Unconsciously Competent!