Friday, 9 December 2011

A Model for the Weekend!

I've been thinking about the relationship between competence, expertise & mastery which has recently been renewed by a blog post from @naturalgrump here.

What I've noticed is that much of the time our expertise comes out subconsciously but when this happens there is a confidence to our actions that is recognised by others if not ourselves. At other times our expertise is more explicit and understood and again combined with confidence it is recognised. I'm curious about the role confidence plays here so have drafted a model to explore this further.

The Model
What this tries to show is some of the observation above but more explicitly how the relationship between feelings of confidence and our actual expertise & knowledge manifests itself.
As I explored the relationship, I perceived a "zone" where we are in essence incompetent. With low confidence we are just INEPT. With high confidence we become DANGEROUS. I'm sure we can all think of examples but car driving is something that sticks in my mind.

However, there comes a stage where you move from incompetent to competent. In essence, confidence doesn't change the fact that you are competent. I've called this PERCEIVED COMPETENCE. This may be perceived by yourself or others. With increasing knowledge & expertise we attain PERCEIVED EXPERTISE and in my mind this ultimately leads to MASTERY. I think the principles are straightforward enough but something funny happens when you throw confidence into the mix...

I've come across many examples where the combination of enough competence and high confidence can very quickly move you from PERCEIVED COMPETENCE into PERCEIVED EXPERTISE. I don't think there's anything wrong in this necessarily but perhaps you now see why I've been using the word "perceived"!

With regards to MASTERY, I don't think it behaves this way. In fact, without the confidence underpinned by actual knowledge & expertise you can not attain MASTERY. The reality is that very expert people with high knowledge won't achieve MASTERY without high confidence.

Conscious Competence Model
As you've read through this you might have started to think about the conscious competence model. I think there's some relation here but it doesn't fully explain the impact of our confidence.

When we act with unconscious incompetence we can assume that our confidence is higher perhaps than thereafter when we know we are incompetent. We can also assume our confidence may increase with competence. This may not be the case though if we don't feel confident. Also, what is the relationship between unconscious competence & expertise or even mastery?

Below is my interpretation of the overlay but perhaps this can be viewed differently.

What Next?
This is purely exploration at this stage but it's helping me think about my own professional development. Perhaps it has an application in a client context.

What would be great is if you could provide your views or thinking on this. Nothing is sacrosanct and I'm happy to be told I'm wrong or that this is old hat!

So what do you think about the above?
What are your thoughts in general about how we attain expertise & mastery?
What role does confidence play in how we our competence is perceived?


  1. Ok, so rough thoughts as follows...
    1. I like it, has the basis of something interesting to me. If we are saying it is perceived competence and expertise is it not possible that mastery is also perceived? Or at least open to question. My feeling is that this comes down to who is doing the perceiving, self, peers or wider society? In things such as music or dance (and yes I'm mindful of the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours rule for mastery) there are standards but the best people are beyond the scale, making things up themselves, some of these are likely to be unconfident, that lack of faith in their own ability is what drives them forward to seek ever more knowledge and indeed drives them to new heights. 

    2. As for how we attain it, well that's too big to cover here I figure. In a previous existence I wrote the competence system for London Underground's operational managers. Some of those managers were seen to be masters but in actual fact their mastery over the whole role was slight if it was there at all. However, having progressed in the organisation they were in a position to influence the perception of what it took to achieve mastery so their wisdom was rarely challenged. Happy to talk in more detail offline from here if that helps you develop things a bit.

    3. Confidence plays a huge role but it's not the sole arbiter. I have seen many people who were under-confident display real expertise and mastery and be valued as such by colleagues even though they could not see it themselves. At the other end of the scale I do like your point around dangerous rather than inept. Anyone who is seen to be confident and it's not based on ability either gets a rapid reality check (or indeed promoted out of trouble quickly, which explains a lot).

    Anyway, these are just quick gut reactions. Get back to me if you'd like to talk more around competence systems as I know a little bit about this area.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to review and share your thoughts Jon.  Lots more for us to discuss!I think Mastery is interesting.  It implies “beyond expertise”.  It is I think perceived or judged by our results but not by conventional “measures” eg competence assessment.  At the core of mastery I think is faith & confidence (self-doubt can still exist alongside these) but combined with proven expertise.To my mind, a lack of faith in your own ability to choose the right thing to do (even by breaking convention) probably means that you don’t have mastery even if you have expertise.  Lack of faith may invigorate but ultimately does it takes faith to execute mastery?Perception is also key here... is it in the eye of the beholder?  Is it in the results rather than the ability?  Probably yes to both...Loads more questions I know but great exploration – thanks!

  3. I think much of this comes in the expression of who decides / decrees mastery. One of my issues when I was dealing with competence systems was whether we were aiming to achieve a baseline standard of general adequacy or rather a system which looked at results and outcomes and could track back and identify mastery and refit the system as it evolved.

    I like the addition of faith to the idea. I also agree that perception is key, I have met people who are masterful but don't seek a bigger audience / results but are content with their localised impact. A parallel for me here with eastern philosophies about flow and not being in direct conflict / competition with an outcome. (Afraid I don't know enough about such philosophies to comment further but it does recall such things and martial arts to my mind).