In last week’s Letter, Driving Through Dips, I wrote about the challenge of going from being successful with something familiar to experiencing the Implementation Dip while learning to do something new. The reason to do the new thing might be because you are striving for growth or it might be something less intrinsic and you’re forced to learn something new. Either way, as part of the learning curve, in the beginning, it can feel like we’re going one step forward and taking two steps back–-hence The Dip.
What I didn’t talk about last week are the Four Stages of Competence people experience when learning something new as first identified by management trainer Martin M. Broadwell.
Let’s start in the bottom left of this matrix–in the quadrant of Unconscious Incompetence. People here personify the cliche, “ignorance is bliss,” because they simply don’t know what they don’t know. Furthermore, because of their unconscious incompetence, they think that it will be easy to do the thing they can’t yet do. Therefore, this is the quadrant of the statement, “I can do this!”
If we go back to the post from last week again, this was my son, Nolan, before he ever got behind the wheel of a car. For his whole life, he was a passenger in a car with an unconsciously competent driver who made it look easy. Thus, he naively believed that learning to drive would be easy.
In the classroom, this is the perspective of anyone who has never taught before including non-teacher parents, politicians, and even the students. People who are observers of someone doing something well do not see the work it takes to do the work. It’s a good magician who makes their work look like, well, magic.
If we were to plot the unconsciously incompetent person on the Implementation Dip, they would be someone on the far left who is in the “Current Performance Level” and this explains why the expression on their face is one of happiness. Their lack of awareness about their competence also explains their lack of thought.
Moving vertically to the top left of this matrix is the Conscious Incompetence quadrant. People here hit the walls of realization and challenge. The thing they’re trying to do is not magic–it’s work–and they are not happy about it because they are not yet able to do it. For people who are consciously incompetent, feelings can range from awkward to frustrated, mad to sad. They may also try to mask these feelings by being overconfident, bullying, defensive, or by retreating. Therefore, this is the quadrant of the statement, “I can’t do this!”
If we go back to the post from last week again, this was my son, Nolan, when he got behind the wheel of a car. I had to repeatedly remind him that even though he has two feet and there are two pedals in the car, he should only use the right foot to drive an automatic car. He was emotionally sensitive when I grabbed the handle by my seat to hang on while he took a turn too quickly. It was common for him to rebuke feedback and tell me he knew what to do.
In the classroom, this is the perspective of new student teachers who are in front of students. They have shifted from being observers to being active participants in the teaching process. They realize they are not nearly as good as the classroom teacher nor even as good as they thought they would be. They are anxious and their bag of tricks is empty.
If we were to plot the consciously incompetent person on the Implementation Dip, they would be people who are in the Dip and this explains why the expression on their faces is one of discontent. Their awareness about their competence explains the thought bubble above their head. As I wrote last week, this is the time when they have to decide whether they are going to retreat and give up their pursuit or are they going to trudge uncomfortably forward to strive for the desired performance level.
Moving horizontally to the top right of this matrix is the Conscious Competence quadrant. People here are doing what they have tried to do but they need to give a great deal of cognition to be successful at the thing. This feels good but it also requires effort. The thing they’re trying to do is not magic–it’s work–and they are happy because they are finally able to do it. Consciously competent people experience feelings ranging from relief to intention, focus to joy. This is a quadrant of celebration and exhaustion. Therefore, this is the quadrant of the statement, “I am doing this!”
If we go back to the post from last week again, this was my son, Nolan, when he took his road test. After months of practice which lead to slow improvement, he was able to prove that he was a competent driver. Yet, he was nervous and extremely aware of what he needed to do while taking the test. This, by the way, is also the way experienced drivers feel when they drive in poor road conditions. They turn off the radio, slow down, and grip the steering wheel with two hands. Their ability to drive, i.e., competence, (which is usually something that requires little to no thought), is high, but their need to focus causes their consciousness to increase.
In the classroom, this is the perspective of a student teacher towards the end of their student teaching experience. They have shifted from being an unskilled participant to being one who is aware of their new skills. They still need to give thought to what they’re doing, but they are able to execute it with some degree of success. This is also an experienced teacher who is working with a student teacher. The experienced teacher has to metacognitively consider what they are able to do and explain it to the student teacher.
If we were to plot the consciously competent person on the Implementation Dip, they would be people who are newly out of the Dip somewhere between the current and the desired performance level and this explains why the expression on their faces is positive. Their awareness about their competence explains the thought bubble above their head. As I wrote last week, this is the time when they have committed to trudging ahead and the effort is paying off.
Moving vertically to the bottom right of this matrix is the Unconscious Competence quadrant. People here are doing what they have tried to do and they no longer need to give cognition to be successful. This feels good and requires little effort. The thing they’re trying to do looks like magic and they don’t even know it. People who are unconsciously competent, feel light and breezy; automatic and comfortable. This is a quadrant of celebration and ignorance. Therefore, this is the quadrant of the statement, “Now that you mention it, I am good at this!”
This is the way experienced drivers feel when they drive. They can make a call, listen to music, have a conversation, and get from Point A to Point B and not even remember how they did it. Their ability to drive, i.e., competence, is high, and their need to focus is low because they have automaticity. If we go back to the post from last week again, this is the place I want Nolan to get to eventually. For now, however, I really want him to remain in conscious competence for a while longer since it takes time and practice to become unconsciously competent.
In the classroom, this is the perspective of experienced teachers who are using their tried and true instructional techniques and familiar resources. They are in the zone and do not need to give much or any thought to what they’re doing. When asked how they did what they did, their first thought is, “Hmm. Let me think,” because they were not aware they were even doing it.
If we were to plot the unconsciously competent person on the Implementation Dip, they would be people who are at the desired performance level and this explains why the expression on their faces is content. Their lack of awareness about their competence explains why they do not have a thought bubble above their head.
The Big AHAs
What I want to draw your attention to is there is only one quadrant where someone would have a frowny face: Conscious Incompetence. This is the time when people are in the Implementation Dip. While people in the Dip may think, “I want to abandon this new thing and go back to what I did before,” the reality is going backward does not fix the problem because you are no longer able to be unaware. Nolan could not try driving, get frustrated, and never drive again because he thought driving was easy. If he gave up, he’d give up and think driving was too hard for him. Carrying around this awareness is actually more of a burden than struggling through the initial challenge of the Dip.
Just as people learning to drive shouldn’t give up when they feel challenged, professionals shouldn’t give up when they learn new things either. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard experienced teachers say, “I feel like a first-year teacher,” when faced with learning something new. I’m familiar with this lament since I am an educator. My guess would be this type of comment could be attributed to any and all professions. Doctors, mechanics, and accountants must face this too. Yet, I would not want to go to a doctor who wasn’t versed with the latest and greatest techniques and the same is true for the mechanics and accountants I depend on.
All of this is easy for me to say, I guess, since I may not be someone who, at this moment, is in the Dip. Well, for those who might be in the Dip and need some encouragement, I want to draw your attention now to the fact that the matrix shows us that consciously and unconsciously competent people all have smiles on their faces. In other words, let’s get conscious about where we are in the matrix when things feel yucky and notice that we get to happiness not by avoiding the challenge, but by persevering through it!
P.S. My Catch of the Week is Adam Grant’s Instagram posts. If you do not follow him, you’re missing out. Most of his posts are short statements that seem to turn traditional approaches to thinking on their head–and he does it in such a way that you think, “YES! Why is this not common knowledge and common practice?!” Below is just one example. Check out his books, his podcast, and/or his website. I promise you, you’ll not regret it!
P.P.S. Please remember to...
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