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Home > Miscellaneous Articles > Professional Incompetence

Professional Incompetence

In learning a new task there are four stages that psychologists have identified. These can be called: Unaware Incompetence, Aware Incompetence, Aware Competence and Unaware Competence
  • Unaware Incompetence is when someone lacks some of the basic knowledge of the job but isn't aware of this lack of knowledge and considers himself to be extremely good. An example is a novice car driver who thinks he is perfect and criticises other road users.
  • Aware Incompetence is the next stage and comes when the individual becomes aware of his limitations. This is when the driver realises he has a lot to learn.
  • Aware Competence comes when the person is very good at the job but has to think about what he does. This is our car driver who has leant the skills but has to concentrate consciously on what he does.
  • Unaware Competence is when the expert can perform the tasks automatically. This is the car driver who drives without having to think about what he does.
I recently heard an interview with a Hollywood actress, I think it was Jodie Foster, who remarked that she didn't think she was very good and had to try hard to keep up with her peers. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato once said that he knew nothing but was wiser than the other citizens of Athens because he knew he knew nothing and therefore could learn. This is the level of Awareness and it's only at this stage that someone can improve. When someone is unaware of their ignorance they see no need to learn and when they are able to act automatically they have lost all incentive.

This is tied in with humility. When Jodie Foster says she thinks she is not a very good actress, this is a kind of humility (rare in Hollywood!). I'm often surprised by how incompetent many well-known Hollywood 'stars' are. Actors with no ability to express emotions who, in practice, simply play themselves are lauded. Unfortunately this syndrome is common in many areas. I've come across many inept computer consultants who charge huge amounts of money for their 'services'. The problem is that the people paying the money are often not in a good position to sort the wheat from the chaff, which is why many computer projects go severely over budget.

This relates to a saying of Jesus when he said that you have to be as a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is humility and unless you have this it is impossible to learn. Unfortunately, it is not an attitude that is encouraged in Western society.

© 2014 Philip Braham Writings