The desire to learn is a natural human impulse. Curiosity and a thirst for uncovering the unknown have helped driven innovation and change in all areas of life since the beginning of civilisation.

In business, learning new things is often vital, especially in management and leadership. However, like so many others I have worked with over the years you are probably wondering why lessons are sometimes learned easily and sometimes just won’t sink in.

It is for this reason that I developed the Nexus program: a robust and reliable program for supporting learning during ‘business as usual’ (Leaders Who Hit the Numbers), specially designed around the psychological basis of learning.

In this article, I will discuss, in brief, the four stages of competence and how these influence the learning process.

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence
“I am not aware that I can’t do this”

At first, you will not be able to do something. This is perfectly normal, and it is where we all start out when learning something new. After all, you can’t learn something you already know!

However, there may be some resistance to overcoming this stage. Perhaps someone will claim that the skill is not necessary for their role and does not need to be learned. Perhaps they will fail to recognise their true ability and claim to be competent already. There are many forms of resistance that an individual may come up with.

With work, this stage can be overcome with a honest and robust review of one’s own skills and abilities.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence
“I now know that I can’t do this”

Once a skills deficit is recognised, you can progress to Stage 2. This is a difficult stage but a necessary one for the learner to achieve real growth. Experimentation with what works and what doesn’t, and the opportunity to make mistakes, is crucial at this juncture.

This stage takes a lot of time – something most management and leadership courses do not offer and something Nexus is specifically designed to work with.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence
“I can now do this by deliberate effort”

After time, and with constant effort, you begin to form new neural pathways and begin to be able to exercise new skills. However, these pathways are still fresh, and many people will find themselves reverting to old behaviour without effort.

Fortunately, this is not the end of the process (although many management courses would have you believe otherwise).

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence
“I can do this without thinking about it”

The final stage of learning in this model, old behaviour has fully been replaced. Learned skills are acted out unconsciously and automatically, demonstrating unconscious mastery.
It is this process that Nexus is designed around. In Part 2, I’ll discuss the implications of the learning journey and how Nexus can put you and your team on the road to practical mastery.