from Sahil Bloom | by Sahil Bloom

Sahil Bloom


over 1 year ago

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To make continuous improvements, here's a concept you must understand:

There's a concept called the "Four Stages of Competence" that I refer to when learning something new. It was first created by Matthew Broadwell in 1969. It says we progress through stages when moving from total novice to expert at a given craft. The stages are as follows:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence At the first stage, we are a complete novice and are thus unaware of our own incompetence. We lack competence but also lack an understanding of our incompetence (or how to work out of it). We don’t know what we don’t know.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence At the second stage, we have developed an awareness of our own incompetence at the craft, but have not addressed or fixed this incompetence. The simple awareness that it is something to be fixed is the point of progress.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence At the third stage, we have developed a level of competence at the craft, but executing requires conscious effort and focus. Our competence requires effortful execution at this stage.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence At the fourth stage, we have extreme competence at a craft that is executed without conscious effort. At this stage, we have reached the pinnacle of expertise. Note: Very few will ever achieve this.

I visualize it most clearly as a hierarchy, with progress marked by a graduation up the pyramid from one stage to the next. To determine whether you've graduated from one stage to the next, here are some simple questions to ask and reflect on:

Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence: • Am I aware of how bad I am at [X]? • Am I aware of what is required to learn and develop at [X]?

Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence: • Am I able to do [X] at a consistently average level? • Have I avoided "rookie mistakes" the last 10 times I have done [X]?

Conscious Competence to Unconscious Competence: • Am I able to do [X] at a top-1% level with my eyes closed? • Do people tell me that I look effortless when doing [X]?

Most of us will navigate life in Stage 3 (Conscious Competence)—the standard for working professionals. This is the stage where you can create results with effort.

Stage 4 Competence is the level of Sprezzatura—studied nonchalance, earned effortlessness. It is a state that we can all aspire towards, though are unlikely to achieve across more than 1-2 areas in our lives (at best). Roger Federer was at the absolute top of Stage 4.

As you progress in any new craft, use this model to reflect on your growth. As a rule: Seek to play games that place a focus on your Stage 3 or 4 skills. Avoid games that place a focus on your Stage 1 or 2 skills. Do that and you will earn attractive long-term rewards.

Follow me @SahilBloom for more writing on frameworks and learning models. I wrote about this learning model in a recent newsletter. Join 118,000+ others who are receiving this type of content weekly!

My co-author turned 4 months old today. He’s definitely still in Stage 1, but we’re working on it…

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