Which Step Am I On?
Where am I in my current situation?
An Art of the Question Blog
We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?
– Steve Jobs
Sorry I’ve been away so long. You see, I recently started a new job. But I am getting ahead of myself. Perhaps a bit of background is in order here.
I have worked in the wireless industry for nearly 20 years. From early in my career, I was fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to move into disciplines outside my initial area of expertise. For example, I was hired as part of the accounting group. From there I went on to manage the State level financial analysis team. Later, I managed customer operations and currently I am part of the network engineering management team.
This movement has broadened my experience and expertise as a manager. It has also made me a stronger leader. It was a great way to give me a better understanding of the industry, the company and all its disciplines. At the same time, it gave the company good insight into my strengths and lesser strengths.
OK, now that we have that out of the way… recently I started a new job in yet another part of our company. As I have been working to get my arms around the new responsibilities, I was reminded about the Stairway to Competence.
In The Boss, I wrote about Dean, a young man who worked in a fast food joint. During his time there, he met The Boss, who became his mentor. The Boss taught him life lessons that revolutionized his thinking. Those lessons changed the way he looked at work. They changed the way he approached things that needed to be done. They changed how he interacted with other people. The time that Dean spent with The Boss put him on a new path that led to success in pretty much every area of his life.
One of the lessons Dean learned was the Stairway to Competence. The Boss taught Dean how a person grows when they start a new experience. The journey is defined in four steps: Confusion, Confirmation, Clarity and finally, Competence.
Confusion – When we begin a new job, a new hobby, a new process, a new – well, you get the picture – whenever we begin anything new, we start out on the first stair. It is called Confusion. In the Confusion stage, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know what questions to ask. We don’t even know all the things we don’t know! As we begin to understand the players, key points, actions, tasks, steps and other parts of the new assignment, we move to the next phase. That is the second step, called Confirmation.
Confirmation – As you can imagine, the first stair of Confusion is very humbling, especially if you have just left a job, situation or assignment in which you were at the top of your game. Maybe you have changed careers, or moved to a different role within your existing company. No matter what the reason, starting over is tough. That’s what makes this second level of Confirmation such a key part of the process.
In the Confirmation stage, be patient with yourself. As the “newbie”, you need frequent encouragement. When you do something right, it helps to have it affirmed. When you do something wrong, a gentle correction is in order. (As a manager, a good rule of thumb if you are working with someone in this stage is to complement them when they do the right thing, and gently guide them if they make a mistake). When we are on this stair, we know what we don’t know because someone is telling us. The goal at this point is to build confidence to propel us to the next step. That stair is called Clarity.
Clarity– This is the stage where we begin to have a little spring in our step. We speak a little louder and with a little more confidence. We speak up in meetings. We offer input. We have begun to “connect the dots” and better understand the relationships between the things we are learning. Our growth at this point is accelerating.
In the Confusion stage we didn’t always recognize what we needed to know. In the Confirmation stage we began to learn, but often the knowledge was “piecemeal”, without a full context. It is in the Clarity stage that these disparate pieces of information begin to coalesce. We begin to put the puzzle together. Things become clearer and our confidence grows along with our understanding. We know what we know if we think about it.
The Four Stairs
Competence– As the pieces come together in the Clarity stage, we fill in the gaps. Our knowledge increases and we move more fluidly through the task, the job or whatever we are doing. Ultimately we reach the top stair, the final stage of Competence. At this level, most of our responses are intuitive.
In the Confusion stage we lacked understanding, in the Confirmation stage we understood if someone gave us direction. In the Clarity stage we had a grasp on the knowledge, but still had to think carefully through the steps. But the Competence stage is intuitive knowledge. Our experience and familiarity help us to move more quickly and accurately through the decisions and actions necessary to do the job at hand.
Here is the challenge. During each stage we have to push to make it to the next stair. We can’t settle, can’t idle. If we aren’t growing, we are dying. An old German proverb says, “When I rest, I rust.”
We need a wholesome discipline to ensure we are grounded. We need rest and relaxation. We need emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual balance. As Solomon put it, to everything there is a season. The foundation provided by our balance will help propel us to the next level.
Steve Jobs urged the team at Apple to “put a dent in the universe”. That is good advice for each of us. Remember, no matter what step you are currently on, the next one is there waiting. Over the course of our career and our life we climb many stairs. The process repeats itself over and over as we move to new jobs, new relationships, new companies and even new careers. Each thing we learn is a stepping stone to the next thing we need to know. Each stair we climb brings us closer to fulfilling our dreams and our destiny.
So go make your dent.
For more information on The Boss, visit terrynewberry.com.