Conscious Incompetence

There is a lot of talk in organisations about competences - as in "High Performance Management Competences" and so forth. Being competent is of course very important - we need to have the skills and motivation necessary to do our work. But there is a paradox: if we are never willing to be incompetent then we can never grow, develop or change, nor will we ever achieve excellence.

An article in Fast Magazine (Jan/Feb 2000, pp 232-4) uses Bob Dylan to exemplify this. "Bob Dylan is an incompetent musician. From year to year, from concert to concert, there's just no way to be sure that he'll deliver exactly what you're expecting. Sometimes, he blows the world away with his insight, his energy, and his performance. Other times, he's just so-so. And, unlike a truly competent musician, Dylan never delivers a song the same way twice. ...No, Dylan isn't competent. But he is brilliant."

Similarly, if we are over-attached to being competent then we may become adequate coaches, managers or whatever. But, if we want to become great coaches or managers, then we need to be willing to feel and be incompetent, to go into uncharted territory, and to risk getting things very wrong. This points to an important principle of personal development which is that we develop by a process of integrating or synthesising constituents of ourselves. So, in this case, we start off incompetent; then, through dint of experience and study we develop competence and leave behind incompetence; and then we move beyond competence to a place where we integrate competence and incompetence into something greater than either - excellence.

This integrating or synthesising process is shown in the diagram below. It is an idea which comes from the field of Psychosynthesis (so called because it teaches how we can synthesise our psyches, make ourselves more whole, and so fulfil ourselves).