The Hierarchy of Competence, Paradox of Trust, & More
Today at a Glance
- Quote: Trust yourself to trust others.
- Framework: The Hierarchy of Competence.
- Tweet: Deconstructing legendary speed.
- Article: Simplicity > Complexity.
- Podcast: 5 important sleep habits.
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"He who does not trust enough, Will not be trusted." - Lao Tzu
The Paradox of Trust: The less you trust others, the less you can be trusted.
We often reflect outward, when we need to reflect inward.
Build trust in yourself to learn to trust others.
The Hierarchy of Competence
There's a concept called the "Four Stages of Competence" that I find myself referring to often when learning something new.
The general idea is that we all progress through a fixed series of stages when moving from total novice to total expert at a given craft.
The stages are as follows:
- Unconscious Incompetence: At the first stage, we are a complete novice and are thus unaware of our own incompetence. We lack competence but also lack an understanding of our incompetence (or how to work out of it).
- Conscious Incompetence: At the second stage, we have developed an awareness of our own incompetence at the craft, but have not addressed or fixed this incompetence. The simple awareness that it is something to be fixed is the point of progress.
- Conscious Competence: At the third stage, we have developed a level of competence at the craft, but executing requires conscious effort and focus. Our competence requires effortful execution at this stage.
- Unconscious Competence: At the fourth stage, we have extreme competence at a craft that is executed without conscious effort. At this stage, we have reached the pinnacle of expertise. Note: Very few will ever achieve this.
I visualize it most clearly as a hierarchy, with progress marked by a graduation up the pyramid from one stage to the next.
This model is useful as a reflection tool for providing clarity about where we sit on a given skill or craft at any given moment. We tend to overestimate our own competency levels, so having a clear framework is helpful for cutting through the noise and delivering an honest personal assessment.
To determine whether you've graduated from one stage to the next, here are some simple questions to ask and reflect on:
- Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence: Am I aware of how bad I am at [X]? Am I aware of what is required to learn and develop at [X]?
- Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence: Am I able to do [X] at a consistently average level? Have I avoided "rookie mistakes" the last 10 times I have done [X]?
- Conscious Competence to Unconscious Competence: Am I able to do [X] at a top-1% level with my eyes closed? Do people tell me that I look effortless when doing [X]?
Most of us will navigate life in Stage 3 (Conscious Competence)—the standard for working professionals. This is the stage where you can create results with effort.
Continued deep, deliberate, focused practice is what is required to leap to Stage 4 in any given craft. Bringing in some science from Cal Newport's Deep Work, our brains have myelin, which is a fatty tissue that insulates our neurons and greases them for proper firing. Stage 4 is the level where the accumulated impact of countless hours of effortful practice result in more myelin, allowing the neurons to fire in perfect concert with ease.
Stage 4 Competence is the level of Sprezzatura—studied nonchalance, earned effortlessness. It is a state that we can all aspire towards, though are unlikely to achieve across more than 1-2 areas in our lives (at best).
As you progress in any new endeavor or craft, use the Hierarchy of Competence to reflect on your growth.
As a rule: Seek to play games that place a focus on your Stage 3 or 4 skills. Avoid games that place a focus on your Stage 1 or 2 skills. Do that and you will earn attractive long-term rewards.
I'd love to hear from you:
- Where are you currently on this hierarchy?
- Where do you aspire to be?
- What actions do you think are required to get there?
Reply to this email or tweet at me @SahilBloom and I'll do my best to get back to everyone!
Incredible video that breaks down all of the tiny details that contributed to Usain Bolt running the fastest 100m dash in history.
I love breakdowns like this, because they bring to life an important fact:
The difference between good/great/legendary is often almost invisible to the untrained eye. They all look fast to me—but when deconstructed, there are clear technical reasons that Usain Bolt has been able to rise above the rest.
It's a fascinating watch. Worth a couple of minutes of your time.
This is a great article on the power of simplicity, specifically through the lens of the "Midwit Meme", which provides a (somewhat juvenile) representation of the human tendency to be attracted towards complex solutions.
Here is a classic example of the Midwit Meme from the article:
I often think of this as the Paradox of Intelligence:
Increasing intelligence can paradoxically lead to stupidity. Intelligent people are more likely to fall victim to stupidity by convincing themselves they are smarter than the system. They create complexity vs. doing the boring, easy thing that works. In simple terms, intelligent people often outsmart themselves.
As the meme viscerally illustrates, both the very low intelligence and the very high intelligence are able to see that the simple solution is the correct one, but all of the rest of us in the middle fall victim to the trap of creating unnecessary complexity.
I constantly catch myself falling victim to this.
Take this video I posted earlier this week as an example:
I watched it countless times trying to understand the math or cosmic forces that were at play. Then I realized there was a simple answer: the rectangular frames are different sizes.
I was the guy in the middle!
Lesson: As Occam's Razor teaches us, never choose the wildly complex answer if there is a viable simple answer sitting right in front of you.
Great discussion between Peter Attia and Matthew Walker on the topic of sleep and actionable steps to improve it.
If you've been following along, you know that I used to be a "sleep when I'm dead" type before discovering the glorious focus, productivity, and general well-being that came from getting 7-8 hours consistently.
The podcast offers five core habits on how to get there:
- Regularity: Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every single day. Find a wind-down routine that works for you to put your mind at ease. I like pre-bed journaling to reduce anxiety and stress!
- Leveraging Light: Get sunlight early in the day and get darkness at night. Blue blocker glasses can help with avoiding the downsides of evening technology.
- Cool Down: Optimal sleeping temperatures may actually feel uncomfortably low (67 degrees and below!).
- Get Up Fast: When you wake up in the morning, get out of bed immediately. Make your bed a place for sleep (and sex), nothing else.
- Avoid Alcohol: Limit alcohol in the evenings as much as possible. Limit caffeine after 12pm (or do a light tea in the afternoon to replace the regular coffee).
Also some really nifty insights on the science an evolutionary development of sleep habits (for all my fellow nerds out there!).