Unconsciously Incompetent

Before I learned to drive, many years ago, I seriously believed I was going to be the next Nigel Mansell.  I’d never driven a car before, but that didn’t matter.

The day of my first lesson arrived and I was surprised when my instructor wouldn’t let me get behind the wheel until he’d driven us to an abandoned airfield (where there was nothing I could hit for miles around).

Of course, I couldn’t drive and kangaroo’d off down the runway before crunching to a halt with the engine a gibbering wreck several feet behind where it used to be.

All of a sudden, I had moved from my blissful state of not knowing I was rubbish (unconsciously incompetent) to being very well aware of my short-comings.

Yes, I was now consciously incompetent and it wasn’t a nice place to be.

In fact, I remember, to cover my embarrassment, getting pretty annoyed with my instructor.  After all, it had to be his fault I was crap.

I was reminded of this episode because I was running a Train the Trainer programme last week.  A very amiable chap, who was doing well on the course, suddenly became a right git after I set the delegates the task of putting their first training session together that I was going to video.

The Amiable Man had been a bit of a know-it-all on the programme but in a sort of positive and constructive way and certainly hadn’t been disruptive.  But his behaviour changed and I had to wrack my brains as to why this might be… it was all due to a theory called Stages of Learning.

When I took him to one side and asked him what the matter was it all became clear.  He’d been pretty confident he was going to be the best trainer the world had ever seen and, as a result, had been a bit blasé about his training session.

Then he’d rehearsed it and it had all gone Pete Tong… (Cockney Rhyming Slang: wrong).

He’d got worried, embarrassed, aggressive and generally in a stew.  His behaviour changed towards me and his colleagues.  The trick for the trainer is to remember what the delegate is going through and dealing with it in the right was for the delegate, rather than getting in a flap yourself…

After all, the guy was just going through the Stages of Learning.

By the way, the first two stages are: 

  • Unconsciously Incompetent
  • Consciously Incompetent


These are followed by Consciously Competent – in my driving scenario, eventually I got good enough to take my test, but, boy did I have to concentrate hard – and Unconsciously Competent: I can now drive a hundred miles and not know how I’ve done it!

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