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How to master the learning curve

Humans, organizations, and society are perpetually engaged in learning, aiming for progress. Typically, we link learning with a tangible outcome, hoping for a better or different future. This quest for improvement frequently originates from a longing or, at times, a forced circumstance, such as a personal layoff, emerging competitors, or global events like the COVID pandemic or climate crisis.

However, the starting point for change isn’t always learning itself. Instead, we fixate on the end goal, neglecting the essential steps needed to achieve sustainable results. In essence, we resist the necessity of learning to attain our objectives. And unless we’ve achieved these goals countless times before, reaching mastery, several challenging phases await.

Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence

At this initial stage of the learning curve, we’re unaware of our deficiencies. We seek the fastest route to our desired outcome, inspired by others’ successes and curious about their strategies. Often, we’re handed a set of tools, overlooking the attitudes and behaviors behind those triumphs. Thus, it’s vital to begin by seeking insights into our current reality and acknowledging the learning pit we must enter.

Stage 2: Conscious incompetence

This phase involves confronting reality, evaluating our behaviors and attitudes in relation to our goals. We gain deep insights into potential obstacles and opportunities. This stage can be uncomfortable and demotivating. Yet, by consciously acknowledging that we’re learning, and accepting our current limitations, we become ready to influence our attitudes and explore the behaviors needed for our future aspirations. This involves relying more on facts than opinions.

Stage 3: Towards conscious competence

This significant upward step involves exhibiting the behaviors that lead to our desired outcomes. As positive behavior is emulated, consistently applying these new behaviors allows for the establishment of new operational patterns. Only then do tools – structures, processes, policies, technologies, etc. – become relevant. Although they offer a tangible sense of change, without a proper foundation, these tools might fail to bring about large-scale transformation.

The unavoidable: bottom of the pit

At this juncture, most transformations stagnate, primarily due to our aversion to discomfort. Yet, confronting this discomfort accelerates our journey through the learning curve. By embracing challenges, we foster a skill set that lets us achieve our goals more swiftly and effectively. Ultimately, we reach a state of effortless proficiency, or unconscious competence, minimizing the chances of regression.

The learning curve, while challenging, is an intrinsic part of our growth as individuals, organizations, and society. Each stage presents its unique hurdles and revelations. Yet, the journey is a testament to our resilience and ability to evolve. By recognizing and embracing each phase of the learning curve, we not only accelerate our progress but also build foundations for lasting success. It’s a reminder that growth doesn’t come easy, but the rewards of traversing the learning curve are immeasurable.

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