How to Measure Skill

Skill is measured by competence, the ability to perform a task successfully and efficiently. No task in life is inherently simple or easy. It is the cultivation and maintenance of competency that makes them so. Competency as an actor or otherwise is measured with the following five levels of competency.

Level 1: Unconsicous Incompetence

The lowest level of competence is unconscious incompetence. You may have heard the expression, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” At this level of competence, we don’t know what we need to know, what questions to ask, we are utterly blind to the point where we don’t even know there is anything to learn. You are probably unconsciously incompetent about Logisticians. You probably didn’t know they even existed, what they do, how to become one, what makes one good or bad, etc. It’s difficult to perceive unconscious incompetence because the brain can’t accept unknowns. Whenever there is a gap in information the brain assumes based on bias. The only way to prevent ourselves from being unconsciously incompetent is to never accept that we are right. Always assume we are wrong, always assume we are missing something, always assume our conclusions are biased, never trust how we feel about something, only trust what we’ve thoroughly vetted.

Level 2: Conscious Incompetence

The next level of competence is being aware you know nothing about something. This is when we know we are blind. When we become aware of our ignorance. This is the first step to competency. It is important to understand that our natural state is unconscious incompetence and so we should make every effort to try to uncover where we are ignorant and more importantly, where we are mistaken. Until we become aware of and admit that we have intellectual or physical weaknesses we cannot take the necessary steps to strengthen them.

Level 3: Conscious Competence

As we begin to study and practice we start to understand the concepts and how to properly perform the tasks but we aren’t consistent, prone to mistakes, and it requires a great deal of concentration to succeed. This is where most people are when it comes to tasks they don’t perform on a weekly basis. Getting to level three is more about understanding than application. Knowing how to play a sport and being able to perform the skills associated with that sport is this level 3, however, getting to a level of competency that enables you to compete and become the best amongst your friends, all the people in your city, or even to become the best in the world requires level 4/5 competency. When you look at the learning curve, conscious competence is represented by the middle of the S-curve, where we experience the greatest growth and feel the greatest sense of achievement.

Learning curve

Level 4: Unconscious Competence

When you can do something without thinking about it, you’ve become unconsciously competent. Riding a bike, driving a car, touch typing, speaking English are all skills in which you’re unconsciously competent. At this level, theoretical knowledge is transformed into practical knowledge and this is the level where most people quit because the cost of getting better is disproportionate to the amount of time and sacrifice. The best athletes in your city practice on a regular basis but to be the best in the world, Olympic athletes on average dedicate 4-8 years of training 30 plus hours a week. Taking classes and casually practicing will get you to Level 3: Conscious Competence, but it takes years of dedicated intentional practice with skilled coaches to get to Level 4 where you can perform them effortlessly and without thought. Most people only achieve this with a few skills such as speaking their native language, walking, whatever their job is, driving, and using their cell phones because those are the things they spend hours every day doing. Because growth at this phase is small and often imperceivable, people often mistake plateauing for the inability to grow, and rather than continue to work hard and study and trust the process they rely on their perception, and when they stop perceiving value they quit. We make decisions to avoid loss not to obtain gain and the cost gets to a point where the amount of gain just isn’t worth it.

Level 5: Conscious Unconscious Competence

This is the highest level of competence and it is the ability to both do something without requiring lots of concentration while at the same time having full awareness of the faculties and abilities required to do it. This level of skill is required by teachers because as an instructor because in order to help people overcome their deficiencies you must have the ability to identify, diagnose, and properly prescribe to help them overcome their inability. They can do it without effort, they understand how they’re able to do it, they can tell when someone else isn’t doing it, and they have the ability to help them develop the ability to do it.

How to Achieve Level 5 Competency

DoDo Not
Try to relate new ideas to previous knowledge and experience.
Acting is like riding a bike. You won’t get good at it watching other people or listening to Lance Armstrong talk about it.
Memorize terms and exercises without reflecting on their purpose. Practicing a skill without taking the time to understand why you need it.
Look for patterns and underlying principles to understand how things work and why they work the way they do.Treat everything like unrelated bits of knowledge.
Check for evidence that techniques work and search for related conclusions from different techniques.Memorize facts and exercises so that they become mindless routines.
Examine everything using logic. Critically examine everything. Argue when something doesn’t make sense or if you disagree.Don’t avoid new ideas because you don’t fully understand them or accept anything as a given when you don’t.
Become actively interested. Read and study from those who are considered experts in the field. Continually train and study. View training as a lifelong pursuit, one that you will never fully realize.View education and training as an obstacle to overcome, something you do once and check off.

Examples of Competency

This video illustrates incompetence and what it looks like to go from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence with the task of pouring juice. After 5 attempts and spilling a lot of it all over the floor and counter, the little girl finally figures out how to get into the cup, however, she will need a lot more practice before she achieves level 4 unconscious competence. Training is important because training is where you go to fail where it doesn’t matter. Training provides us with artificial circumstances similar to what we will encounter in the real world and provides us with all the attempts we need to master it because failing on set costs time and risks both the project and our reputation. We do not rise to the occasion, we fall to our lowest level of preparedness. Big budget films are like 5-star restaurants, if it was your restaurant, who would you want to pour the wine?


This video illustrates unconscious competency and conscious unconscious competency as well. Not only is the man so skilled at pouring he can do it while he films himself and talks but he understands how he is able to pour well enough to teach others.


This video illustrates unconscious competency. Because we don’t know if the barista understands how is able to pour with such advanced techniques we do not know if he posses conscious unconscious competency. This is a prime example of what it means to be a professional. The man in the second video can clearly get the job done but if you were hiring someone for their ability to pour you would definitely go with the individual who makes you say wow. Approach acting the same way this gentleman approaches pouring or as I like to tell my students, may your children’s doctor take the same approach with their craft as you do acting.

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