From Conscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence

If you’re on my site, you are interested in learning.  Bravo!  It is way too easy to coast in a hobby (and unless you’re one of the few that actually improvises for a living it’s a hobby for you).  But if we really care about this art of ours, and we care about the audience and the quality of shows we present, we must commit to continual improvement.

In the management consulting world, we talk about the path from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence to Unconscious Competence.When you’re a toddler on a tricycle or a typical college improviser, you can get ahead on energy alone.  You don’t need to understand balance.  You can survive on dick jokes. You’re in the Unconscious Incompetence phase.

Competence Graphic IAIDB

Then you get a two wheeler.  You learn what good improvisation is at IO Theater in Chicago or any other established off-campus theater and want to up your game.  You’re suddenly mindful of the mechanics, and all too aware of the fact that you suck.  In your attempts to perform at a higher level you’re falling down in a way you never had to do off your tricycle.  You’re in the Conscious Incompetence phase.

But your dedication to learning makes you better.  You can ride your bike without fear of falling down.  You are performing Harolds and thoughtfully tracking the beats.  When another player initiates a game, you recognize the move and know your part.  You’re thinking a lot and it’s paying off in your play.  You’re in the Conscious Competence phase.

Practice gets you to Unconscious CompetenceConcentrated attention builds muscle memory that we can rely on without thinking later. And, yeah, practice equals time. When you’re first learning to ride a bike, you should use your hands and patiently work up to that moment when you can ride and turn your bike without them.  While you should never stop pushing yourself, be wary about pushing yourself too fast.  If you attempt to do a Harold before you’ve dedicated yourself to learning how to navigate group games, you’re simply going to crash and scrap your face.

Commit to learning.  And never stop.

Thanks for being here.  Thank yourself as well.

2 thoughts on “From Conscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence

  1. I really enjoyed your linking of the “learning ladder” to improvisation. Some people suggest a final rung : conscious unconscious competence (also known as “mastery”.) This is being fully immersed in the automaticity of the unconscious competence phase while simultaneously being able to track/nudge the process itself. It’s like directing and acting at the same time!

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