The 4 Stages of Competence
Photo by Tim Arterbury on Unsplash.
The Four Stages of Competence
Have you ever developed mastery in a skill or subject and thought “Wow, I can't believe I can do this now”? Whether it’s learning French, martial arts, how to make pots or a new job skill, expertise is an amazing feeling. But how did you get there?
In a recent coaching class, I found out. The Four Stages of Competence is a concept developed by Noel Burch at Gordon Training International that’s been around since the ’70s and still rings true — we go through four stages to achieve mastery of a new skill. You may recognize them in your own experience, like I did.
Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence (Ignorance)
With any new skill, we usually start in a place of unconscious incompetence. We have little to no knowledge about the skill and are also unconscious of our ignorance. Motto for this stage: You don't know what you don't know.
Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence (Awareness)
We now have some knowledge about our lack of skill. We are also conscious that there is much we need to learn before mastery is achieved.
Stage 3: Conscious Competence (Learning)
Through active learning, we now know how to do the desired skill but it requires practice and effort.
Stage 4: Unconscious Competence (Mastery)
In this stage, the skill is now easy for us to perform and can be done unconsciously and without much effort.
How does it work? Think about learning to drive. We start with having no idea of what’s involved. Then, we take driver's ed and see how much there is to learn. As student drivers, we can drive, but with great effort and attention. As adults, driving becomes second nature.
I relate to these four stages of learning in many areas of my life. I love to paint with watercolors, for example, but even after many years, I feel that I am solidly in Stage 2, Conscious Incompetence. I marvel at others’ ability to paint with beauty and ease.
How does this concept relate to organizing and the home? Suppose you want to organize your closet, where disorder is a long-standing challenge. The four stages could look like this:
Stage 1: You’re aware of the challenge, but not aware that new knowledge and skills may help to address it.
Stage 2: You start to understand that there's a knowledge gap and some learning could be helpful. This may come as an aha! moment where you think "No one ever taught me how to do that.”
Stage 3: You begin to use your new skills, perhaps letting go of clothing you no longer need, hanging items up, or realizing you need a new plan for your space.
Stage 4: Your new skill of keeping your closet organized has now become second nature. When things start to fall apart, you know what to do to get the space back in order.
Learning new skills and changing habits is a lifelong journey that may seem daunting at first, but even small changes can yield big results. The first step: Developing awareness of the knowledge gap.
That’s where I can help. Coaching and organizing can get you through all four stages, from creating awareness to creating habits that stick. If you’re looking to get started, I hope you’ll reach out!
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Erin Becker is the owner of PICK IT UP, a
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