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Avoiding The Fatal Fourth Stage of Learning Part One: The Four Stages

(advance uncorrected proof)

In the late '90s I learned, via the venerable Brian Tracy, about a model of learning called the Conscious Competence Learning Matrix. Basically what it describes is the basic and natural progression from unconscious incompetence, where you know nothing about a subject, let's say 'spelunking', or that it even exists, to the fourth stage: unconscious Competence. This is the stage of learning where you know a particular skill, say 'standing up', so well that you are able to do it all the time perfectly without ever thinking about it.

For more on the four stages as they are understood, in useful visual layout:

The problem I discovered almost immediately about the quadrant was that I couldn't really apply it to my life in any useful way. It seemed rather self-evident that people obviously move from complete ignorance about a subject to learning that it exists but having no knowledge yet, 'conscious incompetence', then, if you like, getting enough training and experience in cave exploration to be called an 'expert spelunker' and resident of stage three, 'conscious competence'. The goal obviously was the zen-like fourth stage, 'unconscious competence', which I was supposed to try to achieve in every area of my life, right?

If this consciousness quadrant was something I already knew instinctively, why did I bother to learn about it? More importantly, why couldn't I find any useful applications for it?

So I set out to prove it wrong.

After a while of testing the theory against new things that I would learn I happily discovered that learning progressed and regressed between and amongst the stages, as described in the diagram above. The stages occupy specific periods of time. Though still not something I could seem to apply and use, it seemed like I was getting closer. We'll go into that more in part two.

Finally (?) in part three I'll explain the unhappy but fortunate conclusion to the question 'what the heck does this have to do with my life?', and why unconscious competence can kill anything or anyone, from a spelunker to a marriage to a movement.

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I'm just going to go with two parts...

Time as a function of learning is always intertwined with the process - they can't be separated.

Pandacentricism will be our downfall.