Monday, December 20, 2010

Knowing Without Knowing

This is the third in a series of posts outlining the Digging for Treasure process. I told some of my own digging stories here and here.

There’s Treasure In There

So you’re good at something.

You’ve been a therapist for forty years. A good one. And you have a lot of stories. You figure you have a book in you.

You haven’t been painting that long, but your batik watercolors are getting into local shows. People admire your unusual technique. And the art store asks if you would teach a class for them.

You’ve been running an award-winning, smooth-as-silk customer service department for a long time, and you’re getting ready to retire. You’d like to pass on your tricks to the person who will end up with your job.

You were injured in a car accident. It took two years to finish the process of insurance claims and treatment. There are so many things you wish you’d known at the beginning. You don’t want anyone to have to go through this terrible experience without guidance.

You use mindmapping for all of your notetaking and brainstorming. So many people say, “Oh, let me see! I want to learn how to do that!” that you’re wondering whether there might be a market for a mindmapping workshop.

In your spare time you’re always helping your fellow social workers with their Excel spreadsheets. You start thinking that teaching basic Excel classes might earn you some extra income.

You have traveled all over the world by yourself. You’ve had wonderful adventures. It drives you crazy when people put off traveling for lack of a companion. You want to let them know how easy and possible it is.

You are realizing that you have something marvelous inside you. Your knowledge. Your treasure. And you want to share it.

But you don’t know where to start.

It’s Buried

When you know how to do something really well, your knowledge of it is subconscious, intuitive, habitual. It’s almost as if you have muscle memory in your brain.

In learning theory, this is called “unconscious competence.” It’s the fourth stage, after unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, and conscious competence. (Whew!) And it’s a good stage. It means that you can get on with things. If you’ve made a thousand pies in your life, you don’t have to stop and decide which ingredients to get out or what to put in the bowl first. You just go to the kitchen and make a pie.

But if you want to pass on this competence, you have a problem. You won’t be able to teach it or write about it unless you can verbalize what you do. And your learners won’t be able to take it in unless you’ve broken it down into chunks.

Unexpected Gifts

In order to teach, you have to dig your knowledge out of your subconscious and organize it. I was thrilled to find out that a learning theorist in Great Britain named David Baume has written about the exact thing I’m describing. He says that after unconscious competence there is a fifth stage—reflective competence. I love that he uses the same digging metaphor that I found!

…looking at my unconscious competence from the outside, digging to find and understand the theories and models and beliefs that clearly, based on looking at what I do, now inform what I do and how I do it. These won't be the exact same theories and models and beliefs that I learned consciously and then became unconscious of. They'll include new ones, the ones that comprise my particular expertise.

Yes! This process teaches you new things. It also enables you to use better the patterns you discover.

When I am stuck in the middle of a book index, I go for help to my own chapter about being stuck while you're indexing.

When I wanted to teach people how to lay color pencil pigment on paper, I figured out and named the different strokes I was using. Then, planning my first drawing of a gorilla, I asked myself which stroke I should use and realized that I needed to invent a new fur stroke.

If you go through this process, you will become even better at your thing. I promise.

How Do I Do It?

How do you get from unconscious competence to being ready to teach? Here are the steps in the Digging for Treasure program I’m developing.

1. The Survey: Figuring out what you know and want to share.

2. Open Observation, or First Digging: Observing and capturing what you do.

3. Treasure Sorting: Watching categories and patterns emerge.

4. Jewel Gathering, or Second Digging: Going back to observation to find the details and stories you need.

5. Map Design and Getting Real: Finding an order for your material and preparing to share it.

I’ll go into more detail about each step in my next posts. I hope you'll join me!


  1. Hi, Do Mi!
    I love your new blog! Treasures already!

  2. I like your blog and website, Do Mi!
    Have fun with all your projects.
    See you at Music night!

  3. OMG I am so happy we found each other, this is just what I needed to hear at this point in my career/work/thing :) Thank you!

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  4. @Andrea: Ao glad! I hope you'll let me know what you think as I go through the Digging for Treasure process.

    @Susan and Ellen: Thank you!!

  5. Yes! I'm sorry I have no better word than that. THIS is what I've been looking for. Not so regimented I feel stifled, not so intuitive that I wrinkle my nose in disgust. THANK YOU

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