Friday, 26 October 2012

I was wrong

I'm naturally a cynic. Sometimes this is a useful character trait, but it can also inhibit learning and dampen optimism. To combat this I try to replace my cynicism with genuine curiosity. It's a strategy that is paying off.

Last night I attended the 2012 Agile Awards. Before the event my cynicism meter was somewhere between DEFCOM 2 and 3. I had deep reservations about some of the shortlisted nominees and was concerned that the event would fall somewhere between an Agile nerd convention and an ego inflation exercise. Why would I want to attend something like that? The answer is curiosity - how would I know if my fears were legitimate unless I went and saw for myself. I'm very glad I did, because I couldn't have been more wrong.

Firstly all but one of the nominees I had reservations about had been nominated for work I was unaware of.

Secondly the nominees I knew and who did win were well deserving.

Third, the guests I spoke to were friendly and interesting. Not at all self inflated.

Fourth, I'd been dubious of the "Best Agile Newcomer" category. Unlike Most Valuable Player or Most Valuable Innovation, I didn't think that being "new" was a special cause for celebration. Once again I was wrong. The crowd's rousing cheer and Emma Hopkinson-Sparks obvious delight at winning was the highlight of my evening.

For the record, I was right about two things. The food and organisation were both excellent. I've known Simon Voice long enough to be confident that he wouldn't be so closely associated with anything that wasn't. It was however my first time for meeting his wife Julie, who was responsible for the event coordination (with credit to their daughter for choosing the music). So well done Julie, Simon and everyone else who worked so hard to put together a brilliant evening. I'm delighted to be proved so thoroughly wrong once again.

Friday, 5 October 2012

How Stages Of Learning Should Influence Coaching Style

The Japanese martial art concept of Shuhari identifies three stages required to reach mastery,
  1. Learn
  2. Detach
  3. Transcend
Another learning model, the Four Stages Of Competence, is defined as follows:
  1. Unconscious incompetence - The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognise the deficit
  2. Conscious incompetence - Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognise the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit.
  3. Conscious competence - The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration.
  4. Unconscious competence - The individual has had so much practise with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily.
The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition (which I've selectively quoted for brevity) goes yet further with five stages,
  1. Novice - Rigid adherence to taught rules
  2. Advanced Beginner - Situational perception
  3. Competent - Formulates routines
  4. Proficient - Holistic view of situation
  5. Expert - Intuitive grasp of situations based on deep, tacit understanding
and some petition for inclusion of sixth stage, "Innovation".

There's clearly a degree of overlap between the models and I think it's important to be aware of these concepts when coaching. I've previously blogged about how autonomy is a key component for intrinsic motivation, and while I've not yet written on the subject am generally against Command and Control leadership styles. However I've begun to wonder if, considering the above learning models, whether an autocratic approach might be necessary for novices - those who require a prescribed process.

I suspect this might work well for individuals who are "Consciously incompetent" and may welcome a set of rules to follow, but less well for individuals who are "Unconsciously incompetent", and may feel undervalued or patronised.

It's also common for people to transition backwards from "Consciously incompetent" to "Unconsciously incompetent". They know enough to be dangerous as the saying goes. While in this state attempting to prescribe a process is likely to cause friction and harm morale. It might be better for the individual's personal development to let them fail. Not only will they hopefully revert to being "Consciously incompetent", but they may also acquire the valuable gift of humility.

Yet another possibility is that an individual may actually be competent, but lack confidence in their own ability, i.e. "Unknowingly competent". A skilled coach might recognise this, and assign some task that forces them out of their comfort zone, but I've also seen this backfire. It can cause the individual great anxiety and stress, so once again a culture that tolerates failure becomes important.

Once an individual reaches the level of "Conscious Competence" then I think the coaching style should focus on helping them detach from any previously prescribed process and ultimately lead to them transcending any formal process at all.