Consciously incompetent

“I want you to hit the ground running,” spouts the manager to their shiny new recruit. “Of course, that’s absolutely fine,” comes the ‘I’ve got to impress’ reply.

Many people have been in such situations. Where the expectation outweighs the reality… on both sides. But hitting the ground running can result in falling over.

Getting settled in to anything new, particularly in a job, can often take months before one really begins to get to grips with everything (well, most things). Change can be a very difficult. We need time to adapt, time to learn. And not just the tasks (that can sometimes be the simple bit) but people’s names and idiosyncrasies, the way people behave towards each other, where things are, the demands, the actuality behind the job description etc etc… And other people need to allow time for that to happen – especially if they want them to be any good.

The same is true with any new stage of life, new location, new home or even new hobby, like learning to play the piano or to paint. It all takes time… and it’s important that it does so.

Often accredited to the American psychologist, Abraham Maslow (he of the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ theory, if you’ve ever come across that), when we learn new things we progress through ‘Four Stages of Competence’:

  • Stage 1 – Unconscious incompetence – “I don’t know what I don’t know”
  • Stage 2 – Conscious incompetence – “I have no idea what this all means or how to do it”
  • Stage 3 – Conscious competence – “Some of this is beginning to make sense – and I can actually do bits of it!”
  • And ideally end at Stage 4 – Unconscious competence – “I’ve learnt what to do and I can do it ‘without thinking’”

So, for example, when it comes to learning to paint (and piano playing for that matter), I have taken up semi-permanent residence in Stage 2 with occasional forays in to the heady lands of Stage 3…

As humans, we have the, at times unenviable, task of residing in all four stages of competence at once… and that’s because we are all learners.

If you are a Twitterer, you may have seen some Tweets quoting from an excellent Lent book by Paula Gooder, a down-to-earth, easy-to-understand Biblical scholar and writer, and on the leadership team at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Writing in Let Me Go There, Paula Gooder reflects on the disciples and what they learnt in their time with Jesus: ‘The disciples that Jesus chose may not have been the ones we would have chosen, but they were the ones he chose… They demonstrated that they had done what disciples need to do – they had learned. Being a good disciple is not about being perfect from the outset, but is about being someone who can learn. Perfect I can’t do, learning I can.’

God knows that we are not perfect.

That’s the point of Good Friday and Easter.


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