Notes from conversations: Conscious competence

| blogging, connecting, web2.0


I’m going to start off with a story about embarrassing myself, because it’s something worth thinking about, I learned a lot through it, and it shows you that I’m human and there are many things you can teach me. <laugh>

Jeff invited me to this talk, and I was really looking forward to it. I had been somewhat frazzled that afternoon (oy, paperwork!), though, and by the time I arrived at Rotman, I realized I didn’t clearly remember what Jeff looked like. I couldn’t pick him out of the rapidly growing crowd. I did, however, see a few other people I recognized a bit (including Darren from the summit I’d attended the day before), and after some reintroductions, we sat near the front of the audience. (More on this later; see “The best seats in the house”)

Darren brought a number of friends over, so the seats in front filled up quickly. I kept looking around, but I didn’t see the people I was looking for – Jeff, who had invited me, and Sabrina, who I had met on the subway last Monday. I suppose it would’ve helped if I had a clearer memory of their faces – another argument for using a smartphone for taking people’s pictures and associating them with my address book records. ;)

Jeff walked up to me and reintroduced himself (thank goodness!), and promised that we’d get together afterwards for coffee or tea so that he could pick my brains and introduce me to his other guests. Then it was time for the session to start. =)

Over tea later that evening, Jeff told me about possible generational differences in etiquette, and how he had been surprised (but not offended because he was expecting these generational differences) that I hadn’t sought him out–or lacking that, saved seats for him and the other guests. In retrospect, it would’ve made sense for me to stand near the back and look for him (or look obviously lost, in which case I’m sure he would’ve found me easily). He asked me what it looked like from my perspective, and I told him about the interesting conversation I found myself in with the folks I’d met at the other event, my understanding that he’d probably be really busy as an organizer, and how I wasn’t sure how many other guests he had invited or who they were. =) It all worked out quite well, although I’m sure I must’ve blushed quite a bit.

There, Jeff – it’s not that Generation Y isn’t aware of these things. It’s mainly that I’m a little fuzzy-brained when it comes to people’s faces, and that I trusted we’d meet up some way or another during the event – which we did, thanks to you. =)

The best seats in the house

I like sitting in the front row, near the center aisle – the best seat in the house for most lectures, seminars, and other events. This usually means that I need to arrive early, which also allows me to chat with other early-birds, the event organizers, and the speakers. Even when I arrive late, though, I sometimes still squeeze into a seat near the front if the talk hasn’t started yet. There are usually a couple of empty seats there, and I still get a great view.

There are several benefits to sitting in front, and you should consider these the next time you’re attending an event. =) Here are a few of my reasons:

  • People who sit in front tend to be really interested in the topic. I can’t count the number of great conversations I’ve had with people, just chatting with people around me before the start of an event. (Yes, I still think of myself as shy. I figure that other people are shy too, so talking helps people settle into the event a bit.)
  • I’ll probably think of a question for the talk, and it’s easier for organizers to see me and hand me a microphone if I’m near the front or near an aisle–or sitting front-and-center, a real keener!
  • I can help influence the energy of a speaker or of the room. I love actively listening to sessions–being interested and enthusiastic, reacting to what’s being said, keeping my body language open and encouraging. As a speaker, I also really appreciate it when other people bring a lot of energy to the room, too.

    Story: I was going down on an escalator at a research conference and a guy on the other escalator waved to me and told me (quickly) that he wanted to talk to me. After he doubled back and met me at the other end of the escalator, he explained that he was giving another session soon (I told him it was one of the ones I was looking forward to). He asked me to sit in the front row. I was surprised by this request, so I asked him about it. He told me that he really appreciated my energy and enthusiasm, and that I made it easier for him to speak! So next time you’re in the audience, think about the fact that you can influence the speaker, and through the speaker, the entire mood of the room. =)

  • I’m in a good position to overhear interesting questions asked after the session. =) I like standing on the periphery of the crowd that usually gathers around speakers after their sessions. People ask all sorts of interesting questions, and I learn quite a lot from what people are interested in and how the speakers respond.
  • Sitting in front keeps me more engaged.
  • I’m not just looking at the slides or hearing a voice come out of the speaker system. I’ve got a full view of what’s going on. Hey, if you had rink-side tickets to a game, wouldn’t you take them too? =)

Conscious competence and knowledge sharing

We talked about the Johari window, or how learners progress through:

  1. unconscious incompetence – when you don’t know what you don’t know
  2. conscious incompetence – when you know that you don’t know
  3. conscious competence – when you need to pay attention in order to do something, and
  4. unconscious competence – when you can do something without thinking

Jeff shared how he had used this concept when applying for the position he currently has. The discussion reminded me of the challenge of expertise: it’s difficult for experts to share what they’ve learned because they’re no longer conscious of what they do and they find it hard to explain all the steps. (Try explaining something you know how to do to a five-year-old.) When you’re unconsciously competent in something, it’s difficult for you to teach it to other people because you don’t think about all the things you do in order to achieve a result. People can still learn by observing you, and if you think about things and consciously break them into smaller steps, you can still teach other people, but it takes effort.

This discussion reminded me of one of the things I recommend to organizations interested in blogging and other forms of knowledge sharing. People are often interested in these tools as a way of sharing expertise, and they hope that they can get subject matter experts to blog or contribute to a wiki. I think that a much more practical and effective way to approach this, though, is to encourage learners to share what they’re learning. Not only do they get the immediate personal benefits of understanding topics more clearly as they take notes and find ways to explain things, but they also help other people learn and build their own reputations at the same time. Get the newbies to do the sharing, with subject matter experts reviewing things for accuracy and clarity. Everyone will learn more. Going back to the Johari window – you’re enabling the consciously competent to teach the consciously incompetent who want to learn, and in the process, you help everyone move forward.

Tied in with that idea of knowledge sharing, then, is the reflective practice of blogging or writing what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and how you can do things better. That conscious, continuous attention to improving competence is one of the key effects that regular, intentional blogging (or wiki-ing, or whatever else) has on a person’s skills. Jeff was initially discouraged by the thought of trying to find an hour each day for blogging, but maybe if he spent an hour each week telling stories into a voice recorder (or his Blackberry) or writing down his weekly review, he’ll start enjoying the benefits of this approach.

The conversation also reminded me of another reflection I posted: “If you can’t, do. If you can, teach.” I shared with them how I’m always trying to teach myself out of a job, sharing as much as I can of my conscious and unconscious competencies so that other people can learn and so that I free up more of my time to focus on things I don’t know how to teach yet. For some people, this is a scary thought because job security means differentiating yourself through knowledge or expertise, not trying to bring everyone up to your level. For me, I think that greater security and fulfillment comes from helping lots of people grow, and because I also get to practice my ability to learn and share, I’ll have plenty of things to keep me busy. =) I create more value and I have more leverage on that value by sharing with others, and that means more opportunities flow to me and other people as well.

Speaking of conscious competence – it’s really cool that Jeff consciously develops his social networking skills. He’s curious about the way I do it, too. I’ve blogged a fair bit about social networking, and I’ll keep posting my notes as we all learn more.

Plenty of other notes about technology adoption, social bridgebuilding, storytelling, and things like that, but I need to work on some other stuff first. More to follow!

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