The Psychology behind Practice Makes Prefect

Continuous Professional Development, or CPD, has become a catch-all term much coveted by business leaders and ambitious career starters alike. In the sphere of Project Management, as with any skill or profession, the doctrine of training and executing newly acquired skills until success is commonplace is a key driver for investing in CPD programmes. PIF looks at the psychology behind the practice makes perfect mantra.

Practice makes perfect

The four stages of competence

The four stages of competence is a theoretical framework often credited to Noel Burch, of Gordon Training International, back in the 1970s. The basic premise, still widely supported today, is that with each new stage of learning we experience pronounced emotional peaks and troughs. By identifying each phase of development, and explaining the cognitive responses that they trigger, Burch's model allows for greater self awareness and a subsequent route to more effective learning.

Unconscious incompetence

According to Mind Tools:

“At this level, you are blissfully ignorant: you have a complete lack of knowledge and skills in a specific area, and you're unaware of this,”
“Your confidence therefore far exceeds your abilities, they add. It might not be until a more senior colleague shoots down your bravado and calls you to task that self-enlightenment kicks in.”

When it does, it's a wise idea to carry out your own SWOT analysis to comprehend your project management strengths and weaknesses. Next you'll want to spend some time pinpointing relevant and realistic training objectives, as part of a training needs analysis, which you can then present to your management team (who might have some useful insights of their own) to green-light the next step in your PM development.

usiness planning - strategy - whiteboard

Conscious incompetence

“By this stage, you've discovered that you need to learn new skills,” Mind Tools continue. “You realize that others are much more competent than you are, and that they can easily do things that you are struggling with.”

Ok, so now the penny drops. This is where for many of us that innate sense of over-confidence crashes and burns; when we realise the scale of the task ahead. Don't despair however, as with any project – and after all you are your own ongoing project – keep those end goals in sight and remain positive by rewarding yourself with each CPD module and incremental gain in knowledge.

Conscious competence

Breakthrough time. By now you've amassed the necessary theoretical foundations and acquired all the training and resultant skills that you identified were lacking. Now you just have to put all your learning into practice with such regularity that your confidence soars. The stabilisers are off, so get pedalling those PM ideas!

“You still need to concentrate when you perform these activities, but, as you get more practice and experience, these activities become increasingly automatic,” Mind Tools suggest.

Unconscious competence

Remember your drive in to work this morning? Chances are the details escape you. That's because driving is an unconscious competence. You do it so naturally and effortlessly that you don't have to give it a second thought. This is learning nirvana. Once you reach this stage you'll be at the top of your game and PM becomes a breeze. Of course, nobody's perfect and one closing chapter opens another learning curve in your development.

Mind Tools recommend cascading your training to colleagues for an even more in-depth understanding of your innate new skills. “This will keep information fresh in your mind, deepen your understanding of the material, and give you a rewarding way to pass this knowledge on to others,” they say.

Do you offer CPD for engineers? Are you engineer who is looking for continuous professional development? It would be great to hear your thoughts and comments.

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