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

In a previous post, I wrote about a lesson that I learned almost two decades back. The post can be found here:  http://sparkpilot.com/blog/?p=1034

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.

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