5 Stages to Mastering Anything


Unconscious incompetence:

Don’t know that I don’t know. Don’t care to know. There may be a belief that the subject matter is too trivial or not important enough to warrant time and energy. “It’s so easy any idiot can do it”.

Conscious incompetence:

Increasing awareness of ignorance. Increasing awareness of potential benefits of wanting to know more about the subject matter and learn some of the skills involved.

This is an essential stage necessary to trigger the next stage of learning. “How does anyone ever learn this?”

Conscious Competence:

Conscious awareness of theory, framework, skill sets and ability to use

All of the above in problem solving.

This is the beginning of expertise. “I can do this.”

Unconscious Competence:

This is the stage where observation, theory, analysis, perspective and discovering a solution are so seamless and automatic that it seems to flow and meld together.

The answer seems so obvious that it seems hard to believe no one else can see it. “Its so obvious. How come no one else sees this?”

This is the domain of an expert.

Reflective Competence:

In order to reach the stage of reflective competence, the master requires a “beginner’s mind”, which refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

When deliberately assuming the attitude of the beginner’s mind, the master will reflect on the field of study and attempt to break every concept down to its simplest form. Through this process, new insights will arise and lead to increased clarity.

This process will be counter productive at earlier stages. It will interfere with the process of developing superior automated skill sets.

Only when the superior skill sets are automated will the inquiry into core principles be useful.

As you teach more and more people on a specific subject, it will become easier to identify their current stage of development. It is only possible to assist someone in reaching the next stage if you have clarity on their current stage of growth.

As soon as you meet someone for the first time and during the first interaction are able to identify their current stage of development and immediately after that you are able to assist them in moving to the next level, you have reached the grand master stage.

The challenge for being in business whether as an entrepreneur, CEO or investor is understanding where you are in the schema above and behaving appropriately.

There are two major traps:

1) Beginners luck: You are in the right place, right time and right connections. Everything comes together. If you recognise you were lucky, you are safe.

If you think you made it happen, it’s the deadliest of traps you have laid for yourself. You will henceforth believe you lead a “charmed life” and get involved in bigger and more expensive businesses.

When eventually you crash and burn and hit the ground, you leave a 50 feet deep seismic crater in the ground.

Witness the “Dot.com” era. Also when the markets’ are bullish and no matter what you do you make money.

How many of them thereafter can pick themselves up after they crash? They are often in financial shambles. However the biggest blow is the to their self esteem and self worth.

2) The pain of change and growth: There is often significant discomfort when we do something new for the first time. Too many have been seduced into thinking that the journey to mastery is a smooth ride. The moment they start “bleeding” a little they give up. Ask any master of the blood sweat and tears they shed along the way.

The only guide to traversing the treacherous road is “To see the world as it is” as in my earlier post.

Ask any of the grandmasters below about their journey and see if you get a different response.