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The Progression of Consciousness and Competence

December 31, 2008

There are two types of knowledge: knowledge of self and knowledge of the world. This can be demonstrated graphically with two straight lines: one horizontal and one vertical. The horizontal line is a representation of degree of knowledge of self. The left side of the line represents knowledge of self, and the right side represents ignorance of self. The vertical line represents degree of knowledge of the world. The bottom of the line represents knowledge of the world, and the top of the line represents ignorance of the world. These two lines, when superimposed on one other, create a four-quadrant graph that represents the journey of knowledge through which one travels in his quest for knowledge. 

When one starts out on his journey, he is unconscious of his incompetence. This is the state known as “ignorance is bliss.” In this quadrant, the person is not aware of the many things he does not know. This is where I started on my journey for knowledge about livable cities. I was ignorant of the information available.

The next step in the process is to become conscious of your incompetence. In this step, one finds himself in discovery mode. He is constantly discovering new information, which leads to additional information to be learned. This is the state I find myself in now. Although I know much more about the science of livable cities now than I did even six months ago, I am aware that I am nowhere close to knowing everything I need to know.

The third quadrant signifies becoming conscious of your competence. This is the state one finds himself in when he has learned a substantial amount in a field and can perform tasks within that field easily and without assistance. This is the stage I intend to acheive by attending graduate school.

The final quadrant can be summed up as unconscious competence. This is the state where the skills learned become second nature and conscious thought is taken out of the equation. Most people are in this quadrant while driving or riding a bike. This stage is also called the expert stage.  The expert can now teach someone else; however, it may be difficult to explain to someone else how to do something when it has become second nature. It is the highly skilled teachers who can rise to the point where they can not only execute the skill flawlessly without thought, but can also teach it to someone else clearly.  This should be the goal of anyone interested in becoming an expert in a subject, as it is for me.

Everyone goes through this process in some way or another. However, most people give up before reaching the third, and especially the fourth, stage. It takes discipline, passion, and motivation to reach the expert stage.


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