Are you Unconsciously Incompetent?

One of the things that fascinates me about teaching is how to make the learning ‘sticky’ – in other words, stick in the mind of the person I’m training.

I thought I’d share something that may help you understand what’s going on when you learn a new skill – and perhaps inspire you to try harder to integrate that new learning into your every day routine at work, ensuring that all those good ideas don’t go to waste!

We’ve all been there – suddenly realising there’s more to learn than we’d realised so it may be you’ve just become Consciously Incompetent. Congratulations! You’ve made progress…

I can illustrate this by explaining how my sister recently needed to drive again after many years of only being a passenger. At first she was Unconsciously Incompetent – she didn’t realise how she’d forgotten her driving skills and actually how bad she was!

It reminded me of Maureen from Driving School. If you don’t remember her I’ll post a clip from YouTube here. Maureen became a national treasure when we followed her many attempts to learn to drive on a TV Documentary. Here you’ll see her husband panicking and grabbing the wheel as she veers in front of another car, and in other episodes (well worth a watch) she runs over her husband’s foot. Maureen is definitely Consciously Incompetent!

My sister wasn’t as bad as that!!!

However, after some trips out on the road accompanied by family members my sister began to understand that her driving skills were poorer than they should have been and she needed coaching – ideally from a qualified driving instructor, just to boost her competence and help her regain her confidence and filling gaps where things had changed since she learnt to drive (many years ago!). At this stage I’d say she’d reached Conscious Incompetence. She realised her deficiencies and this stage can be quite discouraging.

With the support of the family, as she learnt more and practised, we can see that she’s become Consciously Competent, by putting in effort and accepting tutelage and mentor-ship.

As my sister continues to practice there will come a stage where driving will become ‘second nature’ and she’ll eventually arrive at a destination without having had to focus on every step along the way, every gear change, every step on the brake, every signal and manoeuvre. We call this stage Unconscious Competence.

In some learning models there are further stages, but this basic model serves to illustrate what all of us go through when we need to learn new skills. Key to recognising we need training is the first stage where we become Consciously Incompetent and this is essential to recognise there are things we need to learn in order to develop and address skills gaps.

We don’t teach people how to drive a car, but we do teach how to use a computer, along with Management and People Skills, and the principal is the same.

We are an organisation that helps to identify high performing and high potential individuals in companies and we help create proactive plans to support their career development with their Learning & Development team.