Unconscious Competence LO19891

Richard GOODALE (fc45@dial.pipex.com)
Tue, 17 Nov 1998 11:04:47 -0000

Replying to LO19835 --

> The result here is also a spiral, but rather different than Richard
> Goodale's, in that it goes through all four quadrants. Like Richard's,
> however, the crucial stage is in the NE quadrant (or rather, in getting
> to
> the NE quadrant rather than 'immerging' back into the SW).
> Also, rather than being a model of different types of people, as in the
> quotes above, it's a model of learning through stages.


I think we are together rather than apart here. My "model" (and I use the
quotes truthfully and humbly, as it is very much a work in progress) does
go through all four quadrants. What I think I was trying to say in my
post on the subject is as follows.

After Conscious/Competence (the NE quadrant) is achieved, several
possibilities exist. If one is ordinary (i.e. most of us, most of the
time--including myself), one can enjoy the fruits of this position along
with the very occasional, but beatific, phenomenon of being "in the zone"
('pure' Unconscious/Competence, or what Joyce referred to as an
'epiphany.'). If one is creatively challenged, the C/C state can be
seen as a plateau where further learning is not desired or required. If
one is somewhat out of the ordinary (some of us, some of the
time--hopefully including myself), one can value both the comfort of C/C
and the excitement of U/C, and create and learn things within the zone of
tension created by the two. If one is truly extraordinary, one
understands that Unconscious/Competence for one person is
Unconscious/Incompetence for another. They use the experience of 'being
in the zone' to raise the bar of their ambitions. They consciously make
a quantum leap from the U/C corner of their 'box' to the U/I corner of
some new 'higher level' box. They may fail at that new plateau, but, if
they succeed, they will transform both themselves and their environment.

Let me first illustrate this construct with a relatively trivial personal
example. Golf. I played in a 'box' of a 7-9 handicap standard for most
of my early adult life (for those non-golfers who are still with me, lower
is better vis a vis golf 'handicaps'). I had the occasional 'in the
zone' round where I had the 'look and feel' of a lower handicap player,
but never could play to that standard consistently. In the mid-1980's I
joined a regular Sunday 4-ball at my club with 3 players significantly
more Competent than I (3-5 handicap). We played for relatively high
monetary stakes, with no strokes given. For whatever reason--call it an
emergence, call it an entropic epiphany arising from an insertion of
chaos, call it stupidity--my golf game improved rapidly by the end of that
summer. When all the dust had cleared, I was about $1,000 poorer, but my
game/Competence had shifted to a higher box (4-6 handicap standard) where
it has remained ever since. Now, I am very comfortable in that box. When
my game is in temporary decline and my handicap is at the higher end of my
range (i.e. moving from C/C to C/I--within MY box), I am confident that
my Consciousness (i.e. understanding of how to play to the standard of my
box) is sufficient to get me back to my 'normal' level of Competence.
Alternatively, when I start playing 'in the zone' for some sustained
period of time, as I seem to do every two years or so, and my handicap
falls to the lower part of its range, it becomes very clear to me that if
I want to go lower (or even stay at that margin of my standard) I will
need to change my behaviour significantly. I'd have to practice more,
take some lessons, buy new equipment, do more weight training, find
another high stakes game with better players, or all of the above. For
me, given my other interests, and my level of comfort with the box I am in
vis a vis golf, these changes in behaviour are too costly, so I expect to
remain where I am for as long as my increasing canniness is able to
counterbalance the inevitable declines in physical ability which accompany
middle age. In the terminology of one of my friends and colleagues, Bob
Tomasko, I am a 'Game Player.'

On the other hand, there are elements of my current life where I am not so
comfortable. In those areas, I am actively striving to break out of MY
box to reach some higher level of competence. Parenthood is one of those
areas. Understanding Organisational Learning is another. Hence my
continuing participation in this list.

Moving from the trivial to the general, I think that all organisations are
in 'boxes' of Competency and Consciousness whose outer limits represent
some sort of 'comfort zone.' Many organisations never make it up the
Competence axis, and cease to exist. Most tend to reach their comfort
zone (the C/C, or NE quadrant of the matrix) and stay there happily,
building their competencies sufficiently to meet external threats and/or
the exigencies of their customers, but not trying to venture 'out of the
zone' in any sustained manner. Very few take that adventure. Some of
these fail, often spectacularly (viz. Freddy Laker's attempt to break the
North Atlantic airline cartel). The very few succeed in: raising their
game; making the quantum leap; changing the rules of competition and
Competence. For example:

--Microsoft's move from being a third party supplier of software
to the dominant player (IBM) in its Industry (Enterprise computing) to
becoming the dominant player in an Industry which it did not invent, but
which it came to define (Desktop computing). (Did I really use the
'being-becoming' paradigm here?)
--Cemex's move from being just another third-world cement company
to becoming a world leader in the business of managing logistics in
chaotic environments.
--Australia's 'Flying Wine Makers' who have brought modern
viticulture techniques and more marketable grape varieties into the
traditional vineyards of the Old World.

Such moves are not easy. In effect, they involve casting off your old
clothes and starting naked again in your new 'world.' Firstly,
recognising that, in your new 'box' you are de facto at the far SW
corner of the Unconscious/Incompetent quadrant. Secondly,
learning--QUICKLY--the scope of your incompetence (i.e. moving to the C/I
quadrant). Thirdly, putting into place the strategies and programmes to
get you from Incompetence to Competence. Fourthly, once you have reached
the C/C level, deciding when (and if) you want to begin the cycle again.

This is what I was trying to say in my previous post. Progress (in
whatever endeavour) is an endlessly upward spiral of shifts within and
through a series of Consciousness/Competence matrices.

At least, that's the way my emerging model seems to me today. Any

Richard Goodale
Managing Partner
The Dornoch Partnership


"Richard GOODALE" <fc45@dial.pipex.com>

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