, ,

Am I Competent?

No, I don’t mean me, specifically. It’s a question I often asked myself in times of doubt, and I’m sure it’s a question you may have asked yourself. It is something I know I’ve asked myself when a colleague has pulled some masterful piece of work out of his or her bag, a piece of work I either should have considered or could have considered – but didn’t. Occasionally the reverse happened, and I did something that made a colleague think ‘Wow!’ I liked days like that. I’m sure you do, too.

What IS Competence? In my book The Three Resolutions I define it as “the ability to get things done in accordance with the current technology, methodology and ethics of the role being undertaken”.

That general definition covers a multitude of professions, trades and pastimes. The ‘things to be done’ are the results expected from the individual that relate to the objectives of the organisation – it may be sales, it may be production, it may be distribution, it could be the provision of any services you can think of. If you disagree with the definition just apply your own – it’s your understanding of competence that is important, and even more so when you apply it to your own work.

The chances are that having obtained your current job you either received training or were expected to already know what it was you were supposed to be doing. Even in that latter situation I’d imagine there was some tempering of what you knew in the sense that it had to be applied to the specific new situation in which you found yourself. I know, for example, that after 14 weeks Police training my naïve colleagues and I underwent a Force-level ‘local procedure course’ where we were enlightened as to “how we do it ‘round ‘ere”, followed by another “how we do it ‘round ‘ere” inflicted on us when we got to our first station. Then there were to be many other “how we do it ‘round ‘ere” courses as we were to transfer between stations and departments. I probably inflicted a few rounds of “how we do it ‘round ‘ere” myself.

And on each pf my subsequent HWDIRH courses I probably discovered that either I was not competent in the eyes of new ‘trainer’ because of the way I HAD been doing it, or the ‘trainer’ was evidently incompetent because I could see (having got older and wiser) that s/he was regurgitating ‘facts’ with no understanding whatsoever of the principles behind them. Such incompetence, by the way, was often the reliance on HWDIRH being set in stone – the ONLY way.

It is clear to me that no matter where you go and whatever you do, there is a ‘window’ that exists, through which you will be viewed as competent or otherwise, and this is called the ‘AYNOBETA WINDOW’ after Paulo Aynobeta, famed Italian business consultant* and expert in on-the-job training.

Someone, somewhere, will always know more than you. It is plain if you are wholly new to a field and are completely uninformed that people will see you through this window, and be right. On such occasions, suck it up, accept the impatience as a sense of urgency that you learn the new things being taught. (Particularly if you’ve just joined the Marines)

But in progressing along a ‘training continuum’ where you’ve already gained some competence in your field, the situation may be a bit different with the other party’s AYNOBETA WINDOW. If they DO know more than you do it will be evident the moment that they take the time to explain their thinking and you discover a new perspective. If they DON’T know more, that will become evident the minute they shout you down, refuse to listen to you, or call you an idiot for your failure to succumb to their greatness. Avoid these people like the plague. And don’t become one.

A friend of mine suggests that when we disagree with somebody, a great sentence is this: “Ah, you see things differently – tell me more.” It’s seldom easy to remember to use it, but there it is. Another question to be asked in any difference of opinion is, “What is your underlying concern?” They both send the same message – ‘your opinion is important to me and may be correct – tell me more’, and it actually invites the respondent to review their own understanding of the situation. This practice may well develop BOTH parties to the conversation.

Competence can be learned and incompetence can be unlearned. And in the great continuum of life, the skills applicable today may no longer work tomorrow and our competence needs to take new possibilities, and the subsequent need for new learning, into account.

We’re only competent until something changes, but after that change we are only incompetent as long as we are unable or unwilling to learn the new skill required. Once we take the time to be retrained, or to train ourselves, we resume our journey through competence to expertise. And that is a place many of us would like to be.


*Yes, I made him up.