Up Your Business - December - 2020

Tying Your Shoelaces

Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature where I share stories, insights, and reflections about business and life. I’ve been working on one of my “bucket list” projects for quite some time. I want to write and publish a book. The working title is In Business as In Golf – 18 Golf Lessons for Better Business and 18 Business Lessons for Better Golf. My intention is to metaphorically merge proven business and golf principles. The plan contemplates that the book is a Golf book as well as a Business book that will be rich with quotes, insights, humor, and observations from well-known business experts and golfers.

Jim Cathcart’s article, Struggles – More Please, reminded me of one of the chapters in my book. While Jim’s article deals with the fact that whenever anyone takes on learning a new skill, they struggle in the beginning. He says that if we don’t work through the struggles, we won’t improve. I suggest that you read Jim’s article for the rest of the story.

In this article, I’ll discuss the progressive steps and phases in learning a new skill. One of the chapters of my book addresses the age-old question, “Can you buy success?”

In golf, it’s almost an axiom that you can buy a better game. While having the latest and greatest equipment is certainly part of it, my golf instructor asked me, “Would you rather have Tiger Wood’s golf clubs or his swing?” Of course, Tiger could outshoot me with old worn out clubs even if I had the best clubs on the market. Yet, I could improve my own scores with better equipment; but the best way would be to improve my swing.

Unlike buying new clubs, the price to improve my swing isn’t measured only in money. Of course, there’s always some financial expense – lessons, driving range fees, and playing fees for starters. But the non-financial price includes things like time, frustration, blisters, calluses, and body aches. It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours to master a new skill.

I don’t know that anyone ever truly masters business or golf, but we can become competent at them. Arnold Palmer’s observation about golf also applies to business and life in general. He said, “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.”

So, what are the phases of competency? There are basically four sequential phases in the process. When you’re in the first phase, you aren’t even aware of it. In this phase, you’re unconsciously incompetent. Another way to look at it is that you don’t know that you don’t know because you have never considered it, tried it, or wanted to do it. It was simply not on your radar screen.

Phase two emerges when you discover something new that you have a desire to learn. It could be that you’ve decided to take up golf. Or in business, maybe you’ve decided to learn accounting, or how to sell. In any case, the term “natural-born” doesn’t precede these skills. While you might have a “natural-born” aptitude, nobody is born with the knowledge and skills to be competent in these areas. In phase two, you’re said to be consciously incompetent. You’re aware that you can’t do it, or at least you “suck” at it. This is when the struggle begins.

In phase three, you’re consciously competent. You’ve acquired competency skills, but you’re still working through the learning challenges. You’re experiencing a degree of success. However, you struggle with doing it right, being consistent, and you often fail. You think about virtually every step in the process of executing the golf shot, making the correct entry in the accounting log, or finding the right words to say when you’re trying to make a sale. It’s like a million bees are buzzing in your head as you think about what to do next and how to do it.

A simple example of phase three would be learning to tie your shoelaces. When a child is learning this skill, they think about each step – hold one end in each hand, pull the laces tight, cross the right one over the left one, hold the right one in your left hand and the left one in your right hand, loop the left one over the right one, pull the… You get the picture. In fact, just for grins and giggles, try to write a step-by-step shoe tying guide. Now imagine trying to learn that skill from your instruction guide.

In phase four, you’re competent to the point that you can do it without thinking. When was the last time you thought about how to tie your shoes? You probably don’t even look at the laces when you do it. When you reach phase four, you’re unconsciously competent. It doesn’t mean that you don’t think about doing it, but rather, you don’t think about how to do it while you’re doing it, and you don’t worry about the outcome – no bees are buzzing in your head.

Here’s an example from golf to help you better understand the distinctions between conscious and unconscious steps in the process of making a phase four golf shot. If you’re not a golfer, you can substitute just about any complicated skill. I call it the 7 C’s Process.

  1. Contemplate what you want to do. I want to send this ball onto the green. Think in terms of the process of the swing. Golf is not about hitting the ball; it’s about swinging the club.
  2. Calculate the conditions. I’m about 100 yards from the green. There’s a slight breeze blowing against me that will result in the ball flying about 10 yards less.
  3. Choose the right club for the conditions. I usually hit a pitching wedge 100 yards, but I’ll need a 9 iron with the wind in my face.
  4. Create a mental picture and of the shot. In real-time, visualize yourself making the proper swing, the ball flying in the desired direction on the appropriate trajectory and dropping softly onto the green.
  5. Consider, before doing it, how it feels making the shot you just created in your mind.
  6. Commit to making the shot. Eliminate any doubts – do I have the right club; what if the wind changes; can I do this? Any doubt translates into no commitment. You must be committed with no bees buzzing.
  7. Check out of your conscious mind. Now that you’re committed move from the conscious to the unconscious. Step up to the ball. Settle in as you check your grip, alignment, stance, and position. Take a rehearsal swing. Trust the process and your skills. Don’t think or worry about the outcome – it will be whatever it will be. Stop thinking and unconsciously make your swing.

This process might seem like it will take too long. However, as you practice it, it will become automatic, with much of it occurring seamlessly and simultaneously. For example, it takes me less than 30 seconds to complete all 7 steps. In other areas, depending on the skill and circumstances, it takes an instant.

Golf is just one example; you can apply this process for developing competency in any field. Some new skills are easier or less complicated to learn and execute, but there’s a common thread that runs throughout. We all start in the same place and struggle to some degree. Nobody is born with the knowledge and skills necessary to accomplish anything worthy of your attention and desires. The point is to practice doing it, and you’ll enjoy more consistent progress and success in developing any new skill.

The next time you tie your shoelaces, try to remember what it was like the first time you did it.

About the Author

Thom Tschetter has served our industry for nearly four decades as a management and sales educator. He owned a chain of award-winning transmission centers in Washington State for over 25 years.

He calls on over 30 years of experience as a speaker, writer, business consultant, and certified arbitrator for topics for this feature column.

Thom is always eager to help you improve your business and your life. You can contact him by phone at (480) 773-3131 or e-mail to coachthom@gmail.com.