- Unconscious Incompetence – don’t know what they don’t know
- Conscious Incompetence – knows what they don’t know and realizes they better find a way to know
- Conscious Competence – understands what needs to be done, the process to get it done and consciously deliberately follows the process
- Unconscious Competence – has become so proficient in the process that it is performed by instinct
And then there is stage 5, the problem stage that I call the Unconsciously Losing Competence stage.
Hellman had tech CEOs in mind, but as I was reading his post I had to admit that he’d described the process of settling into a new column or blog fairly well. In both cases, there’s a learning cycle involved that can eventually lead to arrogance or carelessness if you’re not careful.
I’ve been thinking about that cycle a lot over the past few months. The last time I’d had to start up any new weekly feature at the Post was back in 2007, when I started doing a tip-of-the-week e-mail for PostPoints members, but since May I’ve launched weekly commitments at Discovery News and the Consumer Electronics Association’s Tech Enthusiast site and am about to start a third–more on that later.
(You could count this blog as a fourth startup, but I don’t have an editor to scold me into writing… which may explain the slow pace of posts here.)
At Discovery, CEA–and, 12 years ago, at the Post–writing the first article in a series didn’t seem that hard. I had time to prepare for it, and when the column or blog debuted people were excited by its possibilities. But getting ready to do the second such piece, that was more like the moment in a Road Runner cartoon where Wile E. Coyote runs off the cliff and realizes that gravity still applies: What, you mean I have to do this again?!
But I got through that second piece, and then the third and the fourth and so on.
At the Post, it took me a few months before I felt like I knew what I was doing–in retrospect, I could only wonder how my editors accepted some of the thumbsuckers I filed as I flailed away during my Unconscious Incompetence period. Did I progress to Unconsciously Losing Competence towards the end? Maybe. I know I had less time for each individual post, even as I had gotten a lot more efficient at writing them.
And today? I’d like to think that I’m a quicker study than I was at 28, and that I have at least advanced to the Conscious Incompetence stage at Discovery and CEA. But if not, I do have this advantage over corporate founders: Readers seem to have fewer hangups than stressed-out startup employees over telling the person responsible that they screwed up.