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Consciously Incompetent

Mostly when we are operating inside our comfort zone, doing the things we know every single day, we are operating at a level of unconscious competence. We do it almost without seeming to think about it, although in reality our brain is just taking over on a sort of autopilot. Simple things like getting dressed, making a cup of coffee or just driving the car are all examples of autopilot behaviour or unconscious competence.


This is the pinnacle of the measures of competence.


The nadir or basement level is the most dangerous - unconscious incompetence - where we don't know how to do something and we are unaware of the fact but regardless, just go ahead and do it anyway. Maybe like seeing a dentist take out a tooth on TV or in a film and then "help" your neighbour by taking out their bad tooth. Crazy isn't it and you would - I hope - never do such a thing.


Next level up is conscious incompetence and that's what I want to talk about. Knowing you're outside your comfort zone, being aware of the hazards, having the skills but never having applied them in this situation before.


I've just been there for the last 6 days, although by Day 6 I was feeling like I was an expert: another dangerous thought area!!


I decided this time we were in Italy that I would drive so we could see more. I normally drive an automatic but the car I was given was a manual (beautiful Lancia). I havent really driven a car with "gears" for almost two years and although I had driven on the right before not for about a year and that was in America. Roads there are totally different.


The number of times I stalled the car at a junction, joining an autostrada, on a roundabout, I had to take about three attempts to reverse park in the hotel car park, got lost even with the (invaluable) sat nav, would all take too long to tell (oh, and don't forget streets so narrow there was room for just the car with its wing mirrors turned in, and central Rome's madness).


I started to believe I couldn't drive until I remembered the competency rules. It is OK to feel uncomfortable when doing new stuff. My driving became progressively more Italian as the week went on and by Tuesday afternoon - although glad to return to my "automatico" - I was beginning to enjoy the no signals, apparently random school of driving, although since there are few white lines on any of the roads, you can never really call it random, just unstructured.


Same applies in business of course as soon as you go out of your comfort zone, you're more likely to learn new stuff and add to your abilities than simply doing the same old same old. And it will feel strange at first but the more practise, the easier it gets till it too becomes another unconsciously competent task


So why not try doing something new today and get out of your comfort zone?


Try to avoid dentistry though!



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Marian Dougan on August 16, 2010

Glad to hear you've mastered the art of driving, Roman-style.

Also glad none of my business trips to Rome coincided with your trip!