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Why you might need some  conscious competence!

recording deskI was doing my stint on the local ‘talking newspaper’ where I am a sound engineer the other night. What a difference a year (or two) makes! My first few recordings were fraught with anxiety and littered with mistakes; I dreaded the phone going on Saturday mornings with the  ‘hello its Ken here, just thought you should know……’  Now I multi task and could not tell you what I do, it ‘just happens’ and seems to take no time at all.

At the start of my work with them, I was in a state of unconscious incompetence; I did not know what I did not know. Very soon I moved to a state of conscious incompetence! We use 3 different computer programs to record and there is a lengthy instruction manual and it seemed to take ages to fiddle and twiddle all those knows and dials. I lived in constant fear that I would delete the recording (I did once.. we had to sit down and re read). It all felt bewildering with labyrinthine instructions, illogical instructions and references to techie words I’d not met before.

Somehow with some practice and analysis of the process, some putting down the  manual and figuring it out for myself I learned to make the recordings. I  got myself to a state of conscious competence. I amended the process to suit my brain and I  was flying, sometimes I ‘d finished without using the manual or even thinking about it. I have reached the state of unconscious competence.

Things that we do a lot and that we are competent at become automatic. We don’t think about them (I am better at guessing a mental arithmetic sum than trying to do it purposely- my subconscious is better than my conscious), we just do them.   Being able to just do something is great as it frees our conscious brain up to do other things. When James Martin is doing his live cookery show he only thinks about the interviews he is doing not the cooking. Cooking is ‘in the muscle’ so he does not need to think about it.   However there are some dangers in being in unconscious competence:

You may slip into bad habits and find that you are not as competent as you think you are or should be. Driving is a classic, we get to drive without thinking about it but there are real dangers in not giving the road and other users one’s full attention. One of these days my shortcuts could mean a major recording error.

You can’t train someone else to do something if you don’t know how you  do it. Each of us needs to develop our staff and share our skills, that is not going to happen if we can’t explain how we make things happen, how we understand our budgets or build relationships. These things may be ‘in the muscle’ but to train you need to make them explicit.

In interviews you can’t convince someone that you can think strategically, motivate staff  or deliver a project by saying ‘I just do’. You need to work at unpicking what it is that you do and then be ready to describe it. Increasingly organisations want people who are self aware and self managing.. so ‘I just do’ is not going to wash. Get some conscious competence!

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