Consciousness and Competence

There’s a fairly well known model (if that’s the right word) called the conscious competence model. It’s basically like this:

When you’re born, you don’t know that you can’t tie your shoe laces. Your shoe laces are tied for you, and you’re totally oblivious to it. This is the state known as unconscious incompetence.

Then, you’re told, you need to learn to tie your own shoe laces. Suddenly, you become aware that it’s something you don’t know how to do. You’re now in the state known as conscious incompetence.

Next, you’re taught to tie your shoe laces. It requires some effort, but with a bit of practise and some training, you master it. Now you’re in what’s called conscious competence.

After a few weeks / months / years (it’s a long time since I learned to tie my shoe laces!) you learn to tie your shoe laces without thinking about it. It just happens. That’s called unconscious competence.

You can see some good images to demonstrate the model on google images here (new window).

It’s quite a fascinating model, and it flags up something very simple, yet very profound, which I think people often forget. We don’t know what we don’t know.

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