good judgment comes from bad experience

or doesn’t it?

A couple of days ago I found in my inbox a brief article about the “Conscious Competence Learning Model“. It is a 4 stage model (some add a 5th stage) that claims that all people start learning by being first

Unconscious Incompetent

or in other words, you have no idea how deep the water is you getting yourself into. I have used the model myself. It is only fair to say when you start something new, you actually don’t know the complexity of the task. Let’s take learning a new language. You may think Korean (and for the record I don’t speak Korean) is only a different way to say the same things. Yes, the letters look different, but that can be learnt.

Conscious Incompetence

Now, I have to admit I feel squeeze about it as I have virtually no idea about Korean. And as I dive deeper into the structure of the language and the pronunciation I realise how deep my misconception of “just another language” in reality is. There is no commonality with Latin word roots! I’m doomed!

Unconscious Competence

Slowly my grasp of the language grows. Although I can differentiate what I see better and even read some, I’m far of feeling comfortable saying something or translating for me or others. I’m well aware what I don’t know and while I’m happy to explain that to others I hardly realise my competence has risen above a certain level.

Conscious Competence

I’m actually making progress! There are successes and I can order a meal, get around in shops, and understand conversations. Confidence to explore the language and getting the details are actually fun!


I’m nearly as good as a native speaker. No questions asked! Wow, Man!

Comparison with SL II

While reading the above mentioned email I couldn’t help and wonder, that sounds awfully familiar to the leadership training I had in Germany and NZ, called Situational Leadership II (SL II). That had the same 4 stages but was geared towards the manager who was leading a staff member through the above process. The model distinguished the same 4 steps and provided the manager with these helping tips





There is a slight difference as SL II talks about the commitment the learner has during the process and ignores the consciousness aspect. From a management perspective this is a very significant difference because the leadership style is geared towards high commitment in the “Directing” and “Delegating” phases and towards low commitment (the phases where the learner realises what he doesn’t know and how complex the task is) in the “Coaching” and “Supporting” phases.

good Judgment comes from bad Experiences

Now, what has the above to do with the subject title? A lot! And this becomes clearer when we apply the model using specific lenses. For example, let’s focus on our knowledge of our tools and processes at work. What do we know about them? Which ones do we apply aptly as we know them by heart?

Yes, of course: applying for annual leave!

Other processes we may not know to the same extent. Hence we do what we think is correct. Let’s look at another example, our customers. Some have internal customers, like the people working in HR, Finance or ICT. Others have external ones, the people who buy our company’s product and services.

Let’s assume I started work in a coffee shop. The first thing they taught me was making a caffe latte and I was getting really good at it. So I thought until I was asked for a Latte Machiato. That’s a 3 stage process and a real art. Done right – what a coffee! Done wrong – …. .

The importance of Feedback

Following a process correctly gives you hardly great feedback. A thank you is the best you can asked for. Do it wrong, and who ever is on the receiving end will let you know! “That coffee tastes like sh*t” would be a strong indicator. Your reaction to this is where judgment comes into play. At the end you got 3 choices:

  • ignore it – probably a good one when confronted with such strong words. Although in the long run it doesn’t help, you either learn to make good coffee or …
  • evade it – you realise this task is not for you. This often happens in the low commitment phases or where you consciously know what you don’t know. A very dangerous place. And your judgement if this is just the trough to get through or the recognition it was a bad choice is crucial. Sometimes the difference makes a little push to get through.
  • face it – at the end of day, you must learn to stand up for yourself. “Excuse me Sir, that coffee is a rarity and supposed to taste like it does. If you prefer something sweeter like a Mochachino, I’m happy to do that for you.” Now, it is important to back it up with a fantastic coffee. Just words don’t cut the mustard.

Looking at feedback you’ll also experience the value of exceptional products or services. A delighted customer will tell you what a great coffee he just had. He might also tell his friends 🙂

Good Judgment comes from experience, good and bad!

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