At Slingstone Business Consulting, one of our passions is helping people achieve growth and one of the ways we carry this out is with training programmes. It usually gives us so much joy and fulfilment when we observe our students and partners excelling in their chosen field, which is mostly related to Business Analysis and Project Management. Sometimes, when we invite them to share their stories, they often spin tales that begin with a time they knew little or nothing, then proceeds to the present where they are either consulting or being called up to lead teams or draft proposals and use cases. This transition usually sounds farfetched and it caused me to take a look at the processes involved in taking someone from a novice to an expert, howbeit within a very short timeframe, depending on the individual concerned.

While researching for this article, I borrowed ideas and content from several authors and I would like to acknowledge their contributions to this body of knowledge.

For further reading on this subject, you can check this article by Judith Schoonenboom and her team on the subject “A four-stage model for life-long competence development”. Also check out an article of similar title by KnowledgeDirect.

Do you remember the last time you learnt something new, like a new language or riding a bicycle? Perhaps you were trying out a new dish that was foreign to you or your culture. If you take your mind back to the moment before your learning began, you will remember how bewildered you felt at the fact that you needed to step out of your comfort zone and learn something new.

Now, think again about the number of times you have used that new skill. I bet sometimes you do it so well that it feels you have always know what you know. Some people even use the phrase “It feels like second nature”. That is because your brain has gone through what we call the stages of competence.

STAGE ONE – UNCONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE.

At this stage, you do not realize that there is a knowledge gap. You are busy with your life and you probably admire other people who are exceptional in what you are about to learn.

STAGE TWO – CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE.

This stage usually follows a realization that there is a need for that knowledge. You consciously realize that a particular subject could help advance your career. At this level you are probably about to sign up or have already signed up for that language program, driving lesson or online course because you understand the need for it.

STAGE THREE – CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE.

At this level, you have started your first few lessons. It is probably daunting because you have to learn new catchphrases, new lingo, new skills, new habits. The beautiful thing about this state is that new neural pathways are being developed in your brain. By repetition and practice you are enforcing that new knowledge into your mind. This is why home works are important in the academic environment, so that you can repeat, fail and repeat. That repeat-fail cycle may be hurtful but it helps develop and strengthen the pathways in your brain. It means you are consciously allocating mental resources to this new habit.

STAGE FOUR – UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE.

At this point, the phrase “like second nature” becomes true. You are using the skill without thinking about it. This is the whole point of learning. It is like walking. When you get up from a seated position, your mind does not need to send signals to your feet or try to coordinate your steps, you just move. That is what happens at this stage of learning. Your boss or colleague calls you up in front of the panel and requests that you explain a particular scenario which you do without asking for a script.

STAGE FIVE – CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE OF UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE.

Although most articles document only four stages to this topic, some psychologists and researchers believe that there is a fifth stage to learning. This is the stage where you are able to empathize with people who are about to begin their learning journey. This is the stage for many teachers and educators who have developed that level of understanding towards others that they are able to interpret an individual’s current level.

Understanding these stages will help you be more patient with yourself and with others as we all navigate through this journey to become better individuals.