Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Unconscious Competence 4: Unconscious Competence

Last time we talked about the Conscious Competence stage in the "Conscious Competence" learning model.

There's one more stage: Unconscious Competence.

You reach the stage of Unconscious Competence when you realize that you can do things without thinking about them. You've heard the phrase "I can do it in my sleep." And, in some sense, that's true.

The best example of Unconscious Competence comes with physical muscle memory. And that only comes with huge amounts of practice.

The first time you hammer a nail, you're bad at it. Sometimes, you're so bad it hurts (bang - ouch!). If you use a hammer a lot, you get better. When you get to the point where you've been using a hammer on the job, eight hours a day, for a year, then driving a nail is a skill at which you are unconsciously competent. You just do it. You don't think about it.

Because Unconscious Competence requires constant use and repetition, we can each only attain this level with a limited number of skills.

Having said that, the only limit to the number of skills in this category is the number of skills you can practice constantly.

So, for example, many people are "touch" typists. This is a skill that many people acquire, use, and never lose. My wife has a keyboard that is missing the paint on several letters. If you she didn't "know" where the keys were, it would be unusable.

But, if I ask her to just type the letter S, she has to stop, lay her hands on the keyboard, and think. If I ask her to type a sentence, she does it instantly and flawlessly. She had to think about the S. She just typed the sentence.

Many of us become lazy drivers because the mechanics of driving have entered the stage of unconscious competence.

We just drive. Here's an experience you might relate to: You move to a new house. But after work, you realize that you're driving home to the old house. Your body is literally doing what it knows to do. Your conscious mind was not involved.

Last time I recommended cataloging the skills you have in the area of Conscious Competence. I would also threw in Unconscious Competence. These can be extremely high value skills for you. They represent chores you can accomplish with very little conscious effort or brain power.

They might even include work-related activities that you simply enjoy doing.

And, going back to the discussion of software programs, you may have some skills within a program that are in the conscious competence stage while others are in the unconscious competence stage. I mentioned that I don't use some features of Word very often. True.

But other features I use so much that I literally don't have to think about them.

It's the old 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of my time is spent with twenty percent of the features in Word. Many of those skills are in the realm of unconscious competence.

But what happens when they upgrade Word to a new version? You guessed it: Your competence and performance drop down to the level of Conscious Competence. You have to re-interpret the new software in light of your old level of extreme competence. But, as long as you use the program every day at the same level, you will quickly regain your mastery.

As odd as it sounds, you need to be very aware of your areas of Unconscious Competence. You need to tune in and make sure that your level of competence remains high as the world keeps evolving. You need to be aware when you are resisting change just so you can stay comfortable with the old way of doing things -- An old way in which you are unconsciously competence.

Much resistance to change is exactly this. The new "system" will slow me down. I instinctively want to go back to the old system. So, for example, I was a much faster word processor on Word 6.0, in DOS on a 286 than I was with Word 2000 on a Pentium.

Your most efficient and effective labor takes place in the real of Unconscious Competence.

The same is true for those around you. Consider this when dividing up chores.

We tend to enjoy the activities in this stage. There's some interaction going on there, of course: You get batter at the things you do a lot. You do the things you like more often, when given a choice.

Having a self-awareness of your areas of Unconscious Competence can make you more productive, happier, and better equipped to move ahead when the time comes.

Overall, the Conscious Competence learning model is a great way to understand where people are with various skills. It's a great framework for help to design educational programs and career advancement programs.


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