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      Beginners Mind

      What is the downside of expertise? The benefit of beginning? Watch this short video and read below for further insights. Please share your comments and questions, as we know your words and ideas can benefit others!

      In this video, we touch on the “Stages of Competence,” which was introduced in the mid ’70s by Gordon Training International and developed by Noel Burch. This work outlined four stages, or levels, of psychological awareness during the learning process. This model has served me for many years and can help you more efficiently attain new skills and awareness.

      Unconscious Incompetence –  You don’t know something, but haven’t tried it, or don’t have a strong inclination to understand. Ignorance is bliss, and you fail to recognize the gap between your present abilities and what it takes to be successful.

      Conscious Incompetence – After some exposure or initial trial, you become engaged and aware of your experience or skill deficit. Here, you make a conscious or unconscious decision to adapt (develop higher understanding and learn the skills) or avoid (identify with the failure, and make no further attempts). Those who choose the latter option shut down the learning process.

      KEY POINT: This is the phase I am referring to when I describe the “Beginner’s Mind.” I believe this is less about actual ability and experience and more about the approach to learning, generally. There always remain higher levels of excellence to pursue. Those who consistently seek to understand areas of incompetence, despite their present success or skills, will continue to undertake the “joyful struggle,’ and progress towards higher levels of their infinite potentials.

      Conscious Competence – You’ve put in the time, developed the skills and understanding, and you new are able to articulate or execute the intended result when focused on the challenge. Results may still be inconsistent, depending upon the level of skill and confidence. But conscious competence represents the reward attained by invested effort and the genuine pursuit of greater knowledge and ability.

      Unconscious Competence – Over time, through practice and application in a variety of circumstances, you develop comprehensive understanding of your subject and skills. You not only understand the methods that work, but the deeper principles and reasoning behind them. With repetition, you internalize and skills and assumptions that lead to success, moving them from active cognition to subconscious routines and reactions. This is the psychological often referred to as “flow.” It can be extremely rewarding and difficult to maintain. Unexpected changes and new scenarios can disrupt this state. This is why adapting to change can be hard for those who’ve been established in their success.

      Those who consider themselves to be masters may miss opportunities to change and grow until they are confronted with new realities that make their competence obsolete. We can guard against that by embracing a beginner’s mind.


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    • Really great to hear this articulated so clearly and so well. I feel like it is very related to much of my life and every day going through my own transitions and changes. Thanks Dan!!!

      • Dan Thurmon says:

        You got it, Philip! Always a pleasure to encourage those who are already such leaders in life! I’m truly grateful for the stages we’ve shared (both literal and figurative), and look forward to our next one!

    • Neil says:

      The rapid changes in technology almost forces us to maintain that beginners mind, otherwise we are left behind.

      To be honest, I love it. I love the challenge of discovering and learning new things in my broad sphere of interests.

      Yesterday, I started teaching myself to use interactive video for my coaching. At 6:00am this morning I am attending a webinar on it. I will continue to build my skills with it today, but I also plan to open the box on another new form of software that I see as being able to give me another competitive edge.

      Every new day has always been about invention and discovery for me – to find ‘a better way’.

      The drive to find ‘a better way’ is what has exemplified my life for the past 50 years.

      At 70 years of age there is still so very much to discover and learn and I can’t see myself ever wanting to stop.

      I have never thought of those four platforms in the learning process before, but I can see just how relevant they are.

      So thanks again Dan for your insights.

      • Dan Thurmon says:

        Wow, Neil, you are certainty a role model in Lifelong Learning. Congratulations on your new undertaking, and your tremendous track record. I’m honored to have shared something that gives you new insight on what you do so well..

    • Tak Kurtz says: is for certain that we don’t learn things like a toddler. But a foreign language will make you envy them.

      • Dan Thurmon says:

        That’s for sure, Tak! I do admire how children learn – picking up concepts, skills, and languages with ease. However, they can also absorb some lessons, fears and self-limiting beliefs that they might take their entire lives to unlearn. That’s why it is so important to teach (and treat) our children with care.

    • Marvin Miller says:

      Dan —
      Really enjoyed this week’s message for multiple reasons. First, I knew you were in Baltimore before you mentioned it, as that is where I was raised and still have family there. But I could relate to the message, being in market research, because almost every day I get challenged with something new and have to dig to learn about it. It does keep me young.

      One of Rachel Carson’s less famous books, The Sense of Wonder, challenges parents to take their kids for a walk in the woods. Her purpose, as much as anything, was not only to have parents introduce their kids to nature, but also to instill that sense of curiosity about the world around us. It is a great read, and for a period of time, I used to give the book as a gift to parents of young children. (I’m waiting for it to come back in print.)

      Anyway, enjoy Baltimore while you are there. It is a great American city, full of history, patriot’s pride, and a lot of new things that keeps that city vibrant and exciting.

      • Dan Thurmon says:

        Thanks Marvin. I also enjoy Baltimore, and it’s cool that those were your old stomping grounds. I look forward to getting back to experience more of the unique character you know and love. Will also keep an eye out for Rachel Carson’s “Wonder” … perhaps in a used book store.

    • India Willis says:

      This certainly resonated with me! I just left corporate job and now I’m learning how to do an online business, terrifying! Yet each day I move forward, slow and steady, reminding myself I don’t know what I don’t know.

      • Dan Thurmon says:

        Just remember, India, the root word of “terrific” is “terror.” So you’re not far off. The key is to allow your fear to transform into curiosity and bring that sense of wonder into the work. Soon you’ll look back with a sense of awe at all you’ve learned and accomplished!

    • Diana says:

      Hi, Dan – this video was quite timely as I recently received feedback that i should try to present myself as more “teachable”. I have been struggling with that concept, but I think your description of the Beginner’s Mind – especially the distinctio between Curiosity and Certainty – helped clarify.

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    • Cheryl says:

      I love this! It reminds me of Darius Rucker’s song “For the First Time.” It happens to be a topic that comes up often in my role as a Title I Learning Coach – and a question that sometimes leads teachers down a new path. New journeys are often uncertain and at times scary, but that shouldn’t stop us from pursuing them!

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