The 5th level of competence
I was talking to a Sales consultant recently, and he was asking me about my special skills. It’s a conversation I have had before, when I was exploring the skills of a friend or colleague. Now the boot was on the other foot.
At some point I said, “I don’t know what I know.”
I explained that I could articulate the subject matter of my training courses, as I have done on my website and in promotional literature or ads promoting specific courses, but that would not really explain my special skills. It’s a common problem, and one that you must have encountered yourself.
Think about situations when you have been training or helping someone to solve a problem within your area of expertise. Under pressure, you come out with insights that derive from a deep understanding of your subject–wisdom that you’d find hard to explain or call to mind out of context.
You could call that the fifth level of competence. It’s what distinguishes the true expert from the specialist.
The other four levels are well known:
1. unconscious incompetence, when the person is unaware of a deficiency in knowledge or skill
2. conscious incompetence, when the person realises that deficiency, perhaps when trying to apply it
3. conscious competence, when the person can apply the skill at will, recognising the level of competence and noticing how it improves with practice
4. unconscious competence, when the skill or competence becomes automatic and second nature, like driving a car
Some people progress further. Their knowledge of their subject moves to a higher level, so that they understand the principles underlying it, and can enable others to cope with any problems within it. Unconscious competence is about being able to carry out the skills themselves. The fifth level is about becoming expert and developing ‘wisdom’.
Think about medical consultants, or lawyers who can find unexpected interpretations of the law. They, too, would find it hard to tell you what they know, but it’s much more than the stuff you’ll find in text books.
When it comes to communication in business—speaking, leadership, presentations, sales letters and such like, I don’t know what I know. But I know I’m at the fifth level of competence.