Some of you may have heard of the ‘consciousness of competence’ model that today I cannot find a source to attribute the origin to. With full credit to the original author, I will try and explain the model and add a twist of my own to complete the theory and hope you benefit from it.
As you go from the bottom of this pyramid, there are several of us who are oblivious of our incompetence and will lead our whole lives in the illusion that we are very competent and never really become self-aware. This is a complete state of bliss that allows one to not realize ones full potential because of lack of awareness of the ‘world of possibilities’.
As we open our competencies to more critical review, either by self or through folks that we ‘trust and respect’, we become more aware of our incompetence, which is typically the first step towards fixing it by building the relevant skills.
Once we are conscious and build our skills, the path becomes clearer. Over time that awareness of competence is internalized and you may be able to take on bigger responsibilities without being fully aware of your competence.
Only if life were this simple… now for the twist…
Business environments are never really stable but are always evolving; be it new technologies, new ways of doing business, substitute products, faster innovations in the industry, increasing complexity in existing business models etc. These often lead the ‘unconscious competent’ professional to fall right to the bottom of ‘unconscious incompetence’ because the competencies are no longer relevant in new environment.
This argument would not be complete without a few examples from the corporate world, but I will substitute firms for professionals to identify better with them. You can then look around your floor to find sufficient examples of folks that may fit the analogy (including yourself!):
§ Remember Blackberry? While the world was going one direction, this firm was found sleeping… and the rest is history
§ Remember the ‘COBOL programmer’? Well… technically they are still in demand with the myriad of legacy applications but then the writing is well on the wall
§ Those in India may remember the ubiquitous STD/ISD booths which can now only be found in museums
§ Kodak in your memory? The transition from ISO films to digital did not come easy to them…
§ Music on CDs are still produced and sold defying gravity of the digital world but for how long?
Back to you – be brave, take a peek at yourself and admit if you are unaware of incompetence in yourself so that you can start building those skills that get you to competence… once there do watch out for environmental changes that may catch up to your competence…
Tapan Rayaguru (Executive Director & Career Coach at Sunstone Business School)
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