Developing Competency

Stages of Developing Competency

We struggle at times in developing competency in what we do. I wanted it to become part of my daily activity. It certainly doesn’t develop overnight and most of us are probably not aware of the fact that there are stages to developing this competency. There really are four stages towards this development. And this is one of those unusual times where we go through those stages in the same sequence every time. Hence one stage leads to the next. Yet, the length of time for each stage achievement is truly variable and unpredictable. Here are the stages in order of occurrence and I will provide very simple examples to help one to understand:

  • Unconscious incompetency
  • Conscious incompetency
  • Conscious competency
  • Unconscious competency

Unconscious Incompetency

Unconscious incompetency is essentially not knowing what you don’t know. Sounds oversimplified??? I guess it does but in our lives there is so much going on around us on a daily basis. Hence we may not know where or how to focus our efforts.

Conscious Incompetency

At some point in our daily lives we are conscious of a direction that we want to go towards; something that we want to achieve. This actually occurs all the time throughout life. There are always things that we want to accomplish but we are totally incompetent in how to develop that competency.

Conscious Competency

So now we know what we don’t know. We are also aware that we don’t have the skills or knowledge to become “competent” at performing that skill or gaining the knowledge to do so. The next step is to gain that competency. The requirements to do so are as variable as the skills, the knowledge, and the person desiring them.

Unconscious Competency

Nike phrase - Just Do It
Unconscious competency

Said very simply, we now do what we wanted to do without even thinking about it, hence unconscious competency. Using a very familiar phrase from a well-known company exemplifies when we achieve unconscious competency, we “JUST DO IT”. That is not meant to sound trite, but we do whatever the skill requires for it to be done competently. Hence, we don’t really give it any thought.


1 There are two examples that come to mind, although a plethora of them exists in our daily lives that we have already gone through. The first one is one that I suspect most, if not all, of us have accomplished. That is the art of walking. As an infant/toddler, people are constantly walking all around us and yet we really are not aware that walking is a skill we will want to acquire – unconscious incompetency. Developing and growing, a desire to learn how to walk arises, so we start trying – conscious incompetency. (Although we have to learn crawling, turning over, and other skills first. It is part of the process.)

The next step is starting to walk, one step at a time, holding on to other objects for help and stability, yet falling a lot. But we get up and try again – conscious competency. Finally, the art of walking is achieved and we do it without even thinking. We even take it to another level with running and other activities – unconscious competency.

2 Allow me to share with you an example in my life that exemplifies these four steps. As an adult (because this did not exist when I was a child) for years I have visited websites for a variety of reasons, like we all do. There was a need to make sure these websites existed for my needs and that they functioned properly – unconscious incompetency. I didn’t care or have a clue about how they were developed and functioned.

Then, one day I started thinking to myself that this might be a skill that I would like to acquire, but I needed to learn how to do it – conscious incompetency. Taking some courses, and learning how to build a website, I discovered resources for help and achieved that skill. I became consciously competent. Today, I build websites for fun and profit. I am unconsciously competent.


So there is a way, a process if you will, for developing competency in all areas of life. Four steps exist to this development and they must occur in the order listed. A way to skip a step doesn’t really exist in my opinion. The time required for each step is variable and dependent on a multitude of factors. Although, one can quit at any step along the way in this process but remember this:

Winners never quit and quitters never win
Quitters vs. Winners


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