Innovation Mojo (#1): Four Stages of Competence

The four stages of competence is a learning model that involves a psychological state of progressing from incompetence to competence in a particular skills.

The stages are defined as:

1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

Unconscious incompetence means that you “don’t know what you don’t know”.   You are unaware of a particular skill and the value it has to you.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

Conscious competence is the next stage where you are aware of a particular skill that you do not have, and that will be of value to you.  In this stage you pursue the knowledge by various means until you learn the skill.  An example of this is in learning to drive a car – you are aware of the skill, but you need to be taught how to do it, so you consciously pursue and acquire the skill.

Stage 3:  Conscious Competence

In this stage you have acquired the skill.  You understand how to do something, but it requires concentration and focus to accomplish the task.  Think about the time when you first started driving, you were conscious of cars around you, signaling to turn, following the lanes lines and you were fully conscious of traffic signs and stop lights.  The task takes on a lot of mental energy to perform to get from one location to another.

Stage 4:  Unconscious Competence

In this stage, you are so skilled, that a task becomes second nature and can be performed easily by you.  The skill can be performed while executing another task.   In the example of driving again, if you have been driving for many years, everything comes as second nature to you – you don’t need to think about turning on your turn signal and you don’t have to think about when to stop or slow down.  Everything happens by second nature and requires minimum effort to accomplish.    

This model can be a useful guide in your own learning in all areas of your life.  For those with kids, you can probably literally see these stages in action.  This model can also be used to coach others to unconscious competence without compromising other skills.  


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