Driving Competence…

I visited Madison this past week. We had two excellent meetings with colleagues from partner companies; we continued work on our 2013 budget and I participated in three Town Hall meetings. All in two days. I slept well on the flight back home.

I often get asked questions to do with travel when I am in the US – how do I cope with jetlag? Do I know the airport check-in staff by name? How do I manage with driving on the other side of the road?

In general, my answer to this last one is ‘very easily’. Roads are wider and straighter in the US which helps. The one exception is junctions. OK – quite a big exception, but wide and straight roads help me here again.

I have driven in the UK for over thirty years. When I come to a junction my first look is to the right. Right, Left, Right again. The moment I look right I realize it’s the wrong direction. The closest traffic will be coming from my left. But the way I look is instinctive. It is an unconscious action. I am unconsciously competent at driving…in the UK.

I thought about unconscious competence whilst preparing for my activities last week. Back when I was 17 and first started learning to drive I was ‘unconsciously incompetent’ – I had a lack of knowledge and skills, but I was blissfully unaware of what I didn’t know. My confidence far exceeded my abilities. Nowadays I get into a car and don’t even think about what I am doing – I just drive. I am ‘unconsciously competent’.

This journey from Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence is just that – a journey. It does not happen overnight. There’s a learning model (isn’t there always) that describes this journey…in four steps.  Step 2 is Conscious Incompetence and step 3 being Conscious Competence. Application of this model is straightforward – when any of us learn anything new – for example a skill or ability or even knowledge – we will all pass through each of the four stages in sequence.

And this model helped me in my thinking about how I am doing since my move. In many ways exactly the same skills and abilities are required in different companies (even those in different parts of our industry). But in other ways there are significant differences. I reassured myself that for any similar aspects I should assume I have the same level of Unconscious Competence as I ever had. But I recognised that for significantly different aspects then I am likely somewhere between steps 2 and 3.

Conscious Incompetence is the hardest part of any learning. Even now I can recall those moments as I learned to drive convinced that I would never be able to master all those activities. Stage 2 is when we become increasingly aware of our lack of skill, ability or knowledge.  And this is a feeling that can be tough to handle…for any of us…especially when others appear much more competent and successful. Motivation and perseverance (from us); support and guidance (from others) are essential.

Conscious Competence is difficult as well. As we develop we are very much aware of what we are doing and how much effort is involved. Skills and knowledge are not yet engrained. Everything requires focus and energy. But we gain confidence rapidly. Persistence, support and guidance are priceless.

Remembering this learning model helped me as I continue to transition and to learn. I realized how much I appreciate, and benefit from, those around me who help, guide and teach me. I reminded myself how much I enjoy helping others go through similar learning.




About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 10 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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2 Responses to Driving Competence…

  1. Sean Nugent says:


    I always look forward to you Sunday letter as you tend to hit on a topic which is near and dear to me (and I suspect most of your audience). This one, however, rang home a bit more. I like the thinking and will immediately apply it. As I mentioned previously, I have started a lab design company (based upon novel furniture options as well as finally coupling architecture/engineering thinking with user workflow needs & operational needs) and have been struggling a bit with the transition. This post highlighted what my struggle is and how I need to address it. So thanks very much for this one!

    Just to brief you as you are probably wondering why I am responding at such an early hour on a Sunday, I am currently in the lounge in Dublin. My wife and I are heading home after spending 18 wonderful days in Ireland (mostly) and England (Dudley & York with two of my aunts). It has been a fabulous time with new experiences along the west coast of Ireland, time with family (aunts, cousins, 2nd gen cousins and even a few 3rd gen cousins), time with friends, time alone, shopping and even a Notre Dame/Navy american football game in Dublin. Like you, I find this to be extremely refreshing but it still allows the mind to think and ponder a bit more clearly.

    Cheers and take care!


  2. Fenske-Raduechel, Rebecca says:

    I noticed that we cannot comment on this, the website is blocked. Can that be fixed?


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