Monthly Archives: January 2015

Managing Conscious Incompetence – Looking for experience reports.

If you ever go to the Extreme Tuesday Club you are bound to hear the following conversation…

“I have a huge backlog of books to read”… “Yeah, I know. I’ve had to move my backlog to Kindle as I was running out of space”.

This conversation reflects the delight that the people at XTC take delight in their ignorance. When someone discovers a new idea, its added to the backlog of everyone at XTC. I’m thinking that XTC might be the only true learning community that I’m a member of.

As a coach, I find the Conscious Competence model to one of the most useful tools in my toolkit. It is also one of the most misunderstood. Conscious Incompetence means that someone is aware of an idea, AND that they value the idea. In other words, they understand “Whats in it for me?”. That backlog of books is a public indication of your ignorance. Its a public statement that there are ideas that you value but you do not know. I believe it was Plato who said our knowledge is a circle, and the circumference of the circle represents the things we do not know. The more we know, the more we realise we do not know.

In risk averse cultures I’ve observed that people do not want to admit ignorance. They tend to want to learn privately. This may be because there seems to be a correlation between risk averse cultures and those with a high power distance culture. In high power distance cultures, official status is about perception. If you admit that you do not know about something that it is valuable to know, and that someone else knows that, you are lowering your status. As such you will state publicly that the thing has no value, or that you already know it… until such time as you have developed the skill

So here is the hypothesis (theory). Could a community where people have a public backlog of the things they do not know but that they value be an indicator of a learning community. Another hypothesis. Could a public backlog of things to learn be used to tip a community’s culture from risk version to risk management?

One of the challenges of creating an Agile community is shifting the culture from risk averse to risk management. Is the creation of public learning backlog something that coaches and leaders can do to help this shift? I have been part of sessions where attendees create a skill market. Where they publish the things they want to learn, and the things they can help others learn. These have tended to be one off events. Does anyone know of a group that has published their learning backlogs?… and was there any impact on culture? I’m also interested in stories of failure, where the publishing the learning backlog has lead to more risk aversion.


I am a slow learner. My learning style is very slow and experiential. The most valuable things that I do not know are:

  • User Experience ( Looking for a good map of this rather large subject )
  • Culture ( Looking for a good practical guide )
  • Ethnography ( I’m still looking for a good introductory text for the practitioner )
  • Anthropology ( I’m still looking for a good introductory text for the practitioner )
  • Cynefin ( I’m attending the Sense Maker training course in January )
  • Complexity
  • Sense Making