The person I was meeting referred to his ‘unconscious competence’, which at the time I thought was an over confident statement of self-reflection. Nevertheless, I later researched the ‘four stages of competence’ framework, which definitely confirmed my initial view.
It is an interesting psychological learning framework, first articulated by Martin M Broadwell in 1969, which describes the four stages of knowledge and skill acquisition in a hierarchy of competence. I have used the definitions and reflections from a Thrive Global article by the extremely smart Benjamin P Hardy, which provides a reference point on where you are and where you might want to get to with your skills development.
Hardy describes an interesting mind-set and practical challenge for those wishing to move from ‘Conscious Competence’ to ‘Unconscious Competence’.
The Four Stages Of Competence
This is where you have no comprehension that you don’t have a particular skill or ability. You don’t see the usefulness of it. You must recognise your own incompetence and the value of the new skill before moving to the next stage.
At this stage, you don’t have the skill developed but you can at least now see your own inability. You can also see the value of the particular skill, and it becomes desirable to you. At this stage, you need to start making mistakes and stumbling your way through the early learning process. Most people stop here because they don’t want to face the failures or the seeming mountain of learning the new skill. They give up before they really start, due to either a fixed-mindset or a belief that the amount of work isn’t worth the uncertainty of the outcome.
At this stage, you know how to do something. However, in order to perform the skill, you need to concentrate. You can break your process down into steps but there still remains conscious involvement in executing your skill.
Hitting the ceiling of this third stage is where “successful” people stop. You can get paid really well for being at this level.
This is where you are really good at what you do, but you haven’t drifted back to the childlike play — where everything is instinctive and nothing really matters. You haven’t fully become absorbed in what you’re doing for the sake of it, where you’ve left all competition behind.
But once you take that next leap out of conscious control and into deep intuition, then you’re now in your own world. You have deep mastery, and you also have complete freedom.
You now have a completely open pasture. You’re no longer bound to doing your work, your “craft,” for money. You’ve developed the inner freedom to know that money is something you can have whenever you want it.
You can create wealth — because creativity is a realm you’ve become highly comfortable with. You create results, you don’t wait for them. You know that the thoughts and ideas you have can quickly translate into physical equivalents.
You’re no longer bound by the chains of needing to make ends meet. If you need to make something happen, you’ll do it.
So now you’re free.
Free to roam and create — or, if you want, to go to the next level where few people are willing to venture.
This final stage is where pure creativity can thrive. This is where the true masters go, and for them, their greatest joy is going deeper down the rabbit hole. Their mission has become to serve the broader world. They are no longer concerned about their own needs. Thoughts about themselves and their situation rarely arise to their conscious awareness.
They are radically interested in solving bigger problems. They’re interested in inventing new systems, processes, ideas, products, and solutions. This is the highest level of skill-development.
Experts solve problems.
Specialists are a member of a team or part of an already established system or process.
Experts focus on mastery.
Craftsman focus on mission.
The final stage of skill development and knowledge acquisition is where your identity has entirely reformed — wherein you can not only perform your skill instinctually and without thinking, but you can teach your knowledge, skills, and abilities to others in multiple contexts and at different levels. You know your stuff inside and out and can connect it to broader and seemingly disconnected topics/concepts.
Perhaps the most fascinating part about reaching this level is that you stop playing by the “rules” of even masters. At this stage, you begin inventing new systems and processes and concepts. You begin changing the world.
Because your knowledge is so deep and wide — and your skill so instinctual and polished — your mind can wander beautiful places while you do your work. You begin exploring realms far outside your typical “work” or “craft.”
You begin thinking far bigger picture.
I thoroughly recommend the work of Hardy and this definition was part of a larger work entitled “The 20% Of Activities That Got You Here Are The 80% Keeping You Stuck”