Scott Boylston describes the four stages of learning, and explains how sustainable business practices are following the course of action by becoming more and more competent in their sustainable practices.
- You might have noticed that even as we talk about changing the way we think, altering our world view or paradigm, a lot of what we've discussed so far in this course is about imagining new ways to interact with and create our material world. In this video, we'll look at the historical context of how our businesses have been learning to become more sustainable. In the 1970s, Noel Burch defined what he called the four stages of learning. And he defined them this way: Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence, and Unconscious Competence.
If you think back to a time when you were unaware of how bad you were at something that you are very good at now, you're familiar with this process. For example, you can probably remember when you realized you couldn't draw as well as you first thought. There's a period of time when you were blissfully unaware of just how bad you were. This stage is what's called Unconscious Incompetence. You lack even a smidgen of training, in part because you don't realize there's training available.
But then came that first year in college. You were instantly mortified by how good the people sitting next to you were, and you became painfully conscious of your lack of ability. The temptation to quit at this Conscious Incompetence stage can be very strong. And even as you continued forward, it didn't get easier, did it? In fact, the third stage of Conscious Competence can break the will of many people. Despite trying and trying over a period of time, the gains come slowly.
But finally, if you're persistent enough, and only if you're persistent enough, you reach a point when you master that task in a way that can be surprising, even to you. And that's when you've reached the stage of Unconscious Competence. You can sketch something, anything, with perfect proportions and perfect perspective without even thinking about it. After a long, hard journey, something that used to be so hard to do suddenly becomes natural. Now imagine that we weren't talking about one person drawing, but about a large business's incorporating sustainability into their daily business operations.
This is the way in which The Natural Step articulates our collective journey towards sustainability. As you can see in this chart, Unconscious Incompetence in sustainable behavior has lasted until recently. It wasn't until we could reduce toxic chemicals at a massive scale that we realized as a society just how bad we were at making things without also making pollution. It wasn't until the 1970s when it became apparent enough that we needed to prevent our industries from poisoning ourselves too quickly by introducing regulations.
This period represented the stage of Conscious Incompetence, because even after we realized we needed to reduce the negative impacts of our production processes, we didn't know exactly how to do it. Numerous large-scale industrial catastrophes occurred during this era, making it even more apparent that we needed to make serious changes. A period of Conscious Competence has followed, where companies have worked hard at reducing negative impacts of their production in order to meet regulations.
And this is never a fun stage. Everyone has to work hard at trying to do better and better, and that constant trial-by-fire learning can wear thin. It can discourage businesses and make them feel the effort to become more sustainable just isn't worth it. Many companies are still somewhere in this stage, and they're intently seeking people who are well-versed in sustainable strategies who can help them reach the final stage of learning. So having this knowledge can be beneficial to your career.
The good news, as you can see in this section of The Natural Step graph, is that there are more and more tools, case studies, and best practices to learn from. The pace of innovation has increased significantly, even over the last five years. We've entered an era when the most innovative companies have arrived at a state of Unconscious Competence. They see sustainability as an opportunity, and they've incorporated it into every level of operation. The growing number of sustainability trailblazers, in turn, makes it easier for other companies to follow in their path.
Now that we've spent a good amount of time learning about the importance of changing the way that business and society perceives reality, next we'll look at tools that help companies pursue a path towards sustainable practices.
- What is sustainability?
- Sustainable development goals
- Nature as a mentor
- Changing behavior through design
- Innovating technically
- Earning sustainability certifications
- Social innovation and change