Thursday, October 15, 2009

Levels Of Competence

It is said that there are four stages of learning:

1. Unconscious incompetence

2. Conscious incompetence

3. Conscious competence

4. Unconscious competence

I'll attempt to explain them briefly.

Unconscious incompetence - This is the first stage, which is why I cunningly gave it the number 1 position. It's when we're bad at something but are not even aware of the situation. It may be Java's ability to do the pole vault or my ability to ride a horse. I run the risk of a comment from Java to inform me that he's a former champion pole vaulter here, but you know me, I like to take chances. The important point is that this stage exists when we don't know that we're bad at something. It's an interesting twist that, even by thinking about whether I could ride a horse, it moves me onto the next level.

Conscious incompetence - This is the next stage and exists when we find out that we're bad at something. Once we get to this point we usually decide to do something about it, though sometimes not. We have to get here before we improve.

Conscious competence - When we start to learn how to do the thing and begin to get a level of competence at it. But, the key here is that we have to work hard at it, we have to keep thinking about what we're doing and how we're doing it. It's very conscious, hence the title. I cast my mind back all those years to when I first started driving and passed my driving test. I had to concentrate and think about things all the time.

Unconscious competence - This is the holy grail, the position we all aim for in anything we do. It's when we get so good at something that we can perform it to a decent level without having to think about it. Going back to the driving example it's where most people get to; when they can drive and don't have to think about the act at all.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Well for one thing it's because this theory has somewhat fascinated and captured me for many years. The very first time I read it it felt like there was a small explosion of several light bulbs going off inside my head. It's simple, it makes sense and it's easy to understand.

Then, after digesting it for a while, I started to apply it to more or less everything I do in my life, as a means of measuring where I am in the specific field compared to where I want to be. I guess one could say that, once a fellow begins to think where he is, then said fellow moves past the first level, that of unconscious incompetence.

I've been doing a lot of drum practice in recent days. We've got a gig tonight and, after a longish summer break, I felt the need to practice the old songs and work on the new ones quite a lot. To try to get fluid and seamless in my playing, that fluidity that comes from familiarity, that unconscious competence.

And in playing along to the recorded versions of the covers we do, songs like Vertigo by U2 and Somebody Told Me by the Killers, I became aware of something happening.

I've played these songs for a while now with this band. Our versions of them, as happens in any covers band, have developed in an organic way. We play little bits and pieces, maybe even the odd embelishment here and there, that we don't think about much at all.

So to go back to hearing the original versions, to practice to them has made me listen with fresh ears. It's made me realise that there's a little cymbal crash here or an extra bass drum beat there that I'd originally learnt but had forgotten about over time. It's kind of taken me from stage 4, that of unconscious competence, back to stage 3, where I'm now thinking again of bits that I sailed through before.

My measurement of my competence is on a song by song basis, not an overall thing. With a newer song, of which there are two in this gig, I aim to be at conscious competence. It's only the element of practice through repeated gigging that takes me to the next level. There are a few older songs, one that I've played with other bands too like Creep for example, that feel so ingrained in my that I could play them in my sleep.

The next dilemna is that I don't want to play a set in which I know all the songs to the level of unconscious competence. That will mean that I'd be playing almost on autopilot. Autopilot can be great, it can enable a musician, or a drummer even, to enjoy the other things, the interraction with band mates, the joy of the crowd, maybe the sheer fun of the occasion.

But variety is good, mixing things up is fun. When I've joined bands and played the first couple of performances it's all at stage 2 and that's no fun, when I'm concentrating so hard on getting it right that there's no space left to enjoy myself.

I suppose this post is a little bit of thinking aloud really. But what about you?

What level are you at in the things you do in your life?

You may be surprised when you think about it.


Serendib_Isle said...

Interesting, to say the least. Stage 4 occurs to me often when I sit at a seminar or a workshop and realise that the guy is taking loads of money to tell me what I already know. The thing is he is famous, and I’m not. This often relates to our livelihood, profession or the stuff we have been doing all these years.

Then there are times when we are sitting at a waterfront having a good time with the guys and think of jet-skiing. You get the notion that if you are a biker, you should be able to jet-skii, and soon realise that things look very different when you are drowning in water. That is stage 1.

The point is, all these stages exist in our day, all at the same time.

I guess we are very aware of which is in which stage, especially if you happen to have a few grey hairs on your head. Time, is a university. The only time the lines blur is when you are well marinated, a few good drinks could push everything towards the stage 3. ;)

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

SI - Thanks for the comment. I find this concept mesmerising and spend way too much time looking at the things I do in my life and figuring out what level I'm at.

I agree that all these stages exist in our live everyday. I certainly have varying levels of competency in different things. Even where drumming is concerned there are songs, styles too in which my levels vary hugely, playing jazz being a big example compared to playing rock/pop.

I reckon that the consumption of alcohol affects those around us, not the imbiber. This is easily proven by the fact that I become an expert and brilliant dancer after a few drinks, yet people around me don't seem to think so.

Java Jones said...

I tried pole-vaulting when I was in College and am quite conscious of my incompetence in that area - sorry!

ViceUnVersa said...

How was the gig? Didn't expect a post from you early morning. So posting on yesterdays. Up yet?
Tc, have a safe day and enjoy the weekend. Diwali tomorrow so I will mope around on NOT being able to celebrate it properly in the stix.
All my roads lead to the paradise island mate :)
TGIF! :) x

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

JJ - Damn, I knew it!

DD - GM2U2. The gig was great, though I'm at my desk now and totally knackered.You must get out to see us soon. The weekend for me will be a nice and relaxing one, have the girls tonight.

Oz Cuz said...

I do feel I may never get past stage 2 with respect to my carrom ability :P