Archive for May, 2009

five stages of competence and how to move from stage to stage?

May 21st, 2009 No comments

In a previous post, I wrote about a lesson that I learned almost two decades back. The post can be found here:

During a recent continuing education session, the instructor covered these five stages of competence, she was not able to cite a source.  Here is my interpretation of the lesson.

Five stages of competence

  • Stage I – Unconscious incompetence – the person is blissfully unaware of their ignorance
  • Stage II – Conscious incompetence – the person aware of their skills shortage
  • Stage III – Conscious competence – the person is able to demonstrate their competence with a high level of concentration or focus
  • Stage IV – Unconscious competence – the person is able to demonstrate their competence with a low level of concentration or focus
  • Stage V – Shared competence – the person is able to teach others by explaining not only how but also the the why’s to achieve a level of competency

Since this training session, I have come across many references to the 4 stages and one or two on the 5th stage.   However the areas that seems to get little attention is what it takes to move between the stages.


Now let’s look at how we can move between the various stages, after all isn’t that what it is all about?


Feedback is the catalyst that enables someone to start this journey because it creates the awareness.

I have covered feedback in previous posts:

The key thing about feedback is that the person that is receiving the feedback can choose to act upon the feedback or disregard the feedback.  I have found people disregard very good and accurate feedback because they were not ready to change or because they did not like the messenger.

Remember the following quote: “There are only two people who can tell you the truth about yourself – an enemy who has lost his temper and a friend who loves you dearly.”


According to Sir Francis Bacon, “Knowledge is Power” and in this case it is the power to move from Stage 2 to Stage 3.  I look at knowledge gathering and continued growth as stocking my bank account.  Just like the real world where I need to work and gather funds to store in my bank account for a rainy day, the same holds true for knowledge. I personally do not believe that we ever leave this stage because the pursuit of knowledge and growth is a never ending journey.

books – I used to have a direct that diligently would get books from the company library but left them on his bookshelf until the recall notice.  This does not help!!  Osmosis simply does not work with books!  Schedule time to read every day, if you read for 30 minutes every work day, that gives you more than 120 hours of reading per year!

mentoring – Getting a mentor because it allows you to learn from other peoples mistakes and experiences.  Basically it allows you to leverage lessons that others have paid the price for.

peer learning – learning from your peers is an opportunity that most people do not make use of.  I have learned so much from peers that now I search out people in different organizations with different skills so that I can learn from their totally different perspectives.  When I was in startups, I used my network with people in other companies.

Internet – there are so many resources on the Internet that are free.  The selection of  blogs, podcasts, videocasts, youtube videos and free monthly articles from reputable magazines is mind boggling.  Use an RSS feed reader to know when new items are published.  Beware that just because it is free, it is not always right and sometimes you get what you pay for!

self-study – sometimes it just takes a lot of hard work.  Approach this skills and knowledge gathering and growth effort with the diligence and dedication that it takes to achieve a degree from from a top notch university.


The Stage 3 to Stage 4 step is often the most difficult step because it requires you to implement the knowledge gained and to put it into practice.  Take those book smarts and put them into practice by creating an action plan on how you  are going to action the knowledge that you have gained.

The experience step is a learning step and not just the execution step!  It is imperative to implement the knowledge, learn from the experience of implementing the knowledge, gather feedback on how you implemented the knowledge, learn from the results or the lack of results.  And remember that it takes time for people to process your attempt at execution.  This is the piece that differentiates the fresh MBA graduate from the real world.  Take that knowledge, even if you gained some of it through an MBA and turn it into experience.

Learn from your experiences and continually improve!


Although this is an optional step, I believe that this sharing step is the one where you can learn the most.  If you think you know how to do something, try to teach it to someone else.  As the saying goes “the best way to really learn something is to teach others” really does hold true and therefore I believe that learning to share your knowledge and skills really helps you perform better too.

Categories: Behavior, People Tags:

This quote resonated with me today:

May 20th, 2009 No comments

If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?

– Rumi (1207–1273) –

Categories: Quotes Tags:


May 18th, 2009 No comments

This week I had a discussion with a program manager about assumptions and not asking the customers / users open ended questions to fully understand the problem.

I asked him to remember this saying:

“When you assume something, you make an ass of u and me

May 15th, 2009 No comments

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.

– Will Rogers (1879–1935) –

Categories: Quotes Tags:

Effective Communication

May 11th, 2009 No comments

I was discussing communication with a number of people this week where they were expressing some frustration around not achieving the results that they were expecting.  I have adopted a  fictional character called Larry who wants to communicate an idea to some key stakeholders.  In an effort to communicate effectively, Larry has adopted a structured approach where he has laid out the the problem, the options and finally the solution. In the graphic below, I have created a graphical representation of the flow of the communication.


Now, let’s take a look at this this flow.  The black lines illustrate where Larry is communicating the problem, the options and finally the solution.   The yellowish lines indicate the flow from element to element.

Although this is a very structured approach that is well laid out.  Unfortunately, as Larry found out his listeners wanting and he was not able to convince his stakeholders.  This is often the case when a new idea is being presented or when the listeners are unfamiliar with the background.  Because people need to catch up and from zero to where they can understand Larry’s definition of the problem.  Literally they need to from 0 to 60 in 2 2 seconds flat.  Also because they are still processing one element while Larry has moved onto the next element, the listeners missed portions of the options or solution definitions.

Now let’s take a look at a modified version of this flow where Larry actually took a breath and checked with his listeners to make sure that they were grasping the concepts that he was trying to communicate.  Quite literally he slowed down in order to speed up.


Just like the previous graphic, the black line illustrate the problem definition.  The yellowish lines indicate the flow from element to element.  Now let’s introduce some key elements that will change the flow drastically.  The green circles with the cross inside are there to provide the stakeholders with some time to think and process what Larry told them.  As the stakeholders process the information, they might have questions, as indicated by the question marks.  Larry needs to provide them with the opportunity to ask questions and/or provide feedback.  Why feedback, you might ask.  Well it is human nature that we all need to feel heard and respected and therefore it is common for the stakeholder want to add their 2 cents.

This dialogue portion is critical to overcoming any fears or concerns that the stakeholders might have.  As the stakeholders buy into what Larry is telling them, he needs to draw them in, with open ended questions and encouraging them to provide input.  In the graphic, the blue line denotes where Larry has gathered the stakeholder input, feedback and incorporating it into the definition of  Problem, Options and Solution.  By getting the stakeholders to help, all that remains is for you to paint in the remaining black portion.

This approach has some key benefits:

  • people feel respected because they were given time to process and ask questions
  • people do not feel dictated to
  • the options and solutions move from a single person;s idea to a collaborative idea
  • it takes less sales to get everyone on board because the baby is partly theirs and we all know that your baby is never ugly

Try this technique and please let me know what you think.

Categories: Communication, Emotions Tags:

Simple brainstorming technique

May 11th, 2009 No comments

If you are anything like me, you will have attended many brainstorming sessions that have gone horribly wrong where:

  • people position themselves before the brainstorming in an effort to establish some credibility ( in my experience the largest time consumer)
  • someone has dominated the session with their diatribe
  • it has deteriorated into a session of I am right and you are wrong and it turned out that they were saying the same thing, just a little differently
  • people were so intimidated that they did not contribute
  • people belittle the ideas thrown up

I have always found it surprising that folks do not understand that brainstorming is all about getting as many ideas out.  The evaluation of the ideas comes later. In an effort to get ideas out quickly and without most of the preamble, here is a mechanism that is quick and fair.

Necessary stationary supplies

  • Sharpies or pen (I use Sharpies because this helps limit the number of words and makes the writing visible)
  • Post-it Pads (small sheets of paper can also be used)

the Rules

  1. one idea per sheet (ideally max.3 words)
  2. do not discuss what you write down
  3. have fun
  4. respect all ideas
  5. do not judge (especially your own ideas)
  6. think outside the box
  7. ideas can be added at any time time during the session (especially the discussion)

Instructions for the Brainstorming session

  1. Ensure that everyone understands the brainstorming topic.
  2. Ensure that everyone has at least one Sharpie and at least one Post-it pad.  If you have multiple colors of the pens and/or pads, then it helps to provide extras so that it is not obvious which ideas came from a single person.
  3. Now, everyone needs to write their brainstorming suggestion on the post-it sheets using a Sharpie.  One idea per page and no more than three words to explain the idea / suggestion.
  4. As the folks complete writing down all of their ideas, stick them up on a board / wall.
  5. Now group the similar ideas together.
  6. Now discuss all of the ideas and as the facilitator it is your responsibility not to belittle any idea or person.

Helpful Hints

  • To help the folks in the group that need time to think and process, it is advisable to include the brainstorming topic in the meeting invitations.
  • Provide a link to these instructions as part of the advanced notification.
  • Do not shoot the messenger!  Brainstorming is all about getting the most hair brained ideas out.  Remember that you crazy idea can stimulate someone elses’ thinking that results in that killer idea.
  • In the 30 plus sessions that I  have used this technique, there are always a clear set of ideas that are similar.  The ideas can now be evaluated on the merits of the idea and not who’s idea it is.


When time is a factor, I have done steps 1 to 4 at one meeting, shorted the ideas out off line and then conducted the discussion at another meeting.

Categories: Behavior, Emotions Tags:

Why should I listen to feedback?

May 5th, 2009 No comments

Today during a 1:1 with one of my directs, let’s call him Curly, we spoke about feedback and people not behaving defensively when they receive it.  We discussed the mandatory response of “Thank You” .  Curly shared a slightly off-color piece of guidance that he was given at a training session earlier this year.  The guidance was:

“Curly, when you are with a woman and she gives you guidance on how to turn her on.  Do you follow it or do you ignore it?”

After this piece of guidance, he has not been able to be defensive about any feedback that he is given and his heart felt response is always “Thank You”

Categories: Behavior, People Tags:

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