Understand the Four Steps of Learning

Think about the last time you tried something new. Perhaps you started a new job. Or maybe you took up a hobby that required a particular skill set, such as sailing.

Continually learning characterizes our growth and development throughout life. Early on we learn to communicate using gestures and language. We develop physical and cognitive abilities to overcome obstacles and accomplish our objectives. Especially in the modern world characterized by rapid change, we constantly have to adapt to new challenges and opportunities.

I was recently talking with someone about emotional intelligence and its contribution toward career success. Just as I had been ignorant of the topic prior to reading articles and delving into a study course recently, this person had never heard of EI or EQ.

After explaining emotional intelligence on a cursory level and sharing a resource about the topic, I mentioned the following four-step paradigm that I was exposed to in a training course:

  • Unconsciously incompetent – You don’t know what you don’t know. If you are ignorant about the existence of an area of study or a skill set, you are incompetent without even being aware. Someone who has never heard of accounting doesn’t even realize his ignorance of debits and credits, general ledgers, and account reconciliations. Or perhaps you mistakenly believe you are proficient in some area, so you don’t realize that you need further training and development. A person in that state is unwilling and unable to learn until progressing to the next level.
  • Consciously incompetent – You know what you don’t know. You have some depth and breadth of knowledge about the subject matter, but you remain ignorant of many basics and details. If you have heard of accounting and know about terms like debits and credits but are unaware of what they mean and how the concepts are applied, you are consciously incompetent.
  • Consciously competent – You know what you know, but you have to focus and think about the subject matter. If you have a working knowledge about the mechanics of debits and credits and can clearly explain the concept, perhaps while pausing to think about it, you are probably consciously competent. You can still progress one step further.
  • Unconsciously competent – Your mastery of the knowledge and skills has become “second nature.” You know the subject matter “like the back of your hand,” and you can perform “practically in your sleep.” If you can explain and apply concepts such as debits and credits, ledgers, reconciliations, revenue recognition, and more, without missing a beat, you are an unconsciously competent accountant.

To put this in perspective, consider someone who didn’t know about emotional intelligence and had perhaps unconsciously developed habits that ran counter to sound EI principles. Becoming aware of emotional intelligence could be the first step toward new levels of professional success.

Soon I will share some practical tips on applying the four stages of learning.

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  1. Pingback: Apply the Four Steps of Learning | My CFO Career Development Plan

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