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The Four Stages of Competency & Predictors of Career Success and Failure

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“Know thyself” is a greek aphorism that was inscribed at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

A couple of weeks ago I ran into someone who not only did not know what he did not know but also had a pretty good idea (in error) of what other people know and did not know.  For a person who did not know himself, making an assertion of what other people know and do not know is quite an accomplishment.

Here are the four stages of competency

  1. Unconscious Incompetence.  The individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it.
  2. Conscious Incompetence – Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, without yet addressing it.
  3. Conscious Competence – The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of consciousness or concentration.
  4. Unconscious Competence – The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it becomes “second nature” and can be performed easily (often without concentrating too deeply). He or she may or may not be able teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

So this person I met was in the “Unconscious Incompetence” camp.  When I told him about the thing he did not know I also told him how he could find out more about it – but he was not interested.  In the context of the environment in which this person was working, other people do know, so this lack of knowledge on the part of this individual will be noticed.

Related, are those people who get “stuck” in other ways – never learning from mistakes.

Diagnostic Job Interview Questions

These types of interview questions will “ferret out” those people who have and do not have the capability of critical self-assessment and learning from mistakes.   The capability to engage in ongoing critical self-assessments and learning from mistakes is taken as a  predictor of career success or failure.

  1. Discuss the most difficult constructive criticism or feedback you have received. How did you address it? What have you learned from it?
  2. Describe a failure that you have experienced. What role did you play, and what did you learn about yourself?
  3. What have you learned from a mistake?
  4. Please provide an example of a team failure of which you’ve been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently?

If you can’t candidly face, discuss, and work on your flaws, or if you try to hide them, blame others, or blame circumstances it shows a lack of self-knowledge and maturity.  Don’t expect to be a viable candidate for senior leadership.

Another common flaw is work-avoidance.  This is the inability to face difficult alternatives in terms of values, procedures, operating styles and power within an organization.  People with work-avoidance will do everything but solve the problem directly.  CEO’s or executives in this situation will do everything to quell the organizational disequilibrium  except face and solve the problem directly.  This is the avoidance mechanism at work.

More related concepts  – Illusory Superiority –

The story

When he was forty, there came a curious but crucial episode which changed Socrates’ whole life. What happened shall be told in the words which, by Plato’s account, he himself used at his trial. “Everyone here, I think, knows Chaerephon,” he said, “he has been a friend of mine since we were boys together; and he is a friend of many of you too. So you know the eager impetuous fellow he is.

Well, one day he went to Delphi, and there he had the impudence to put this question — do not jeer, gentlemen, at what I am going to say — he asked, ‘Is anyone wiser than Socrates?’ And the Pythian priestess answered, ‘No one.’ Well, I was fully aware that I knew absolutely nothing. So what could the god mean? for gods cannot tell lies.

 For some time I was frankly puzzled to get at his meaning; but at last I embarked on my quest. I went to a man with a high reputation for wisdom — I would rather not mention his name; he was one of the politicians — and after some talk together it began to dawn on me that, wise as everyone thought him and wise as he thought himself, he was not really wise at all.

I tried to point this out to him, but then he turned nasty, and so did others who were listening; so I went away, but with this reflection that anyhow I was wiser than this man; for, though in all probability neither of us knows anything, he thought he did when he did not, whereas I neither knew anything nor imagined I did.”

– from C. E. Robinson’s Zito Hellas (1946) [Hellas (1955), ix, 1, p. 136]. It is based on Plato’s Apology 21a-d:


Written by frrl

May 13, 2010 at 3:37 am

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