How good do you think you are?

And how good are you really? You may already be familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect. It's a cognitive bias where people with low competence are over-confident in their ability. It is rectified quite quickly, as the more you learn, the more you realise how much there is to know. Then you're on the long, slow road towards mastery. There are four stages to this journey, and each step, the perception of your ability changes.

Dunning-Kruger Effect with levels of competence and perception

When you first learned to type, you tapped away with one finger, quite happy to see a word slowly appear on the screen. You were unconsciously incompetent. Then one day, you see someone else type. Woosh! A blur of fingers and they've written a paragraph! And they didn't even look at the keyboard! Most people stop and say "I'm bad at this, I give up!". For most, this causes despair. But for you, this is highly motivating. Now you know what's possible, you have the drive to keep going. You are now consciously incompetent.

After a while, you start to see the effects of your practising compound. You are faster, and sometimes you can even write without looking, bar a few mistakes. Every now and then, you get a glimpse of what it's like to be the blurry-fingered typist. This glimpse very quickly turns into the realisation that you've got much longer to go than you thought. You've barely even scratched the surface! You felt like you were getting good, but the more you learn, the farther away that level of skill seems. This is conscious competence.

And then you arrive at another crucial milestone—only a small percentage of people that persist breakthrough into mastery. When you do, you don't even know it. You've reached unconscious competence. To a novice, what you're doing looks unattainable, but to you, it's as easy as breathing. You type at 150 words per minute, eyes closed, with no mistakes.

Dunning-Kruger Effect Imposter Syndrome gap

As you travel the road to mastery, your perception of your ability can stray from reality. You can end up in Imposter Syndrome territory. But take it as a good sign. It's important to feel like an imposter, but not so much that it prevents you from taking action. Feeling like you have no right to be doing something, tells you that you're doing work at the edge of your ability and knowledge. A leader that knows what they are doing is a paradox. Going into the unknown is part of the job, and it's only normal to feel out of your depth - because you are! If you weren't, you'd be stagnant. Embrace feeling like you have no idea what you're doing. It means you're learning. Don't let your current perception fool you. All you need to do is stay humble and keep going.

18