I had an extremely interesting hair cut yesterday. My stylist was pretty sharp. She did my hair on a Saturday because she has gone back to school during the week.
Because of her current learning we talked about the stages of taking on something new when you have been doing something else for a long time. This is a pretty interesting process to consider.
She talked to me about a classic model of learning, and in particular the first stage, unconscious incompetence.
I thought about our conversation all weekend. These ideas bumped up against other conversations I have been having on the issue of confidence among sewists. I have observed that older sewists are often tentative with their sewing. When I first mentioned this in my monthly newsletter I had many emails from readers who shared the ambitious projects they jumped into when they were younger, and how they now procrastinate with many purchases of patterns and fabric, nervous about actually executing any of these projects.
By contrast I equally see some social media sewists who are quick to jump into expert status with very little actual sewing experience, and in doing so sometimes do not give the best advice to new and returning sewists.
So if you are willing to indulge me I would like to interpret the chart below from a sewing perspective:
I think there is something to think about here and also, I hope some comfort for those on the getting to learn to sew better continuum.
Unconscious incompetence- This happens at the beginning of learning a new skill, I think a hands-on skill in particular. You know the feeling when you look at someone else's work or watch them sew and think "I could never do that." You can, at your worst moments, even think that you will never be good at this. I think this feeling is particularly prevalent about those of us who were raised in a family where aptitudes were considered something you were born with and pretty set for life. You know "she's the athletic one" or "I am no good at crafts/sewing". A lot of people get discouraged or give up or panic at this stage of learning. The learning curve once you begin to see what is involved in sewing, just seems too overwhelming.
Conscious incompetence: This is the stage when folks become students. They buy courses, books, read blogs, Google everything. Some people even stall at this stage and become more students of sewing than sewists. I think this is the stage where the paralysis of confidence can kick in. Sometimes this can be manifest in muslin fittings of many iterations - almost as if the sewist feels she needs to perfect before she sews. A pretty interesting stage. Practice is the key activity here and leads directly to the next stage.
Unconscious competence: As a sewing teacher I see this one a lot - sewists who are more able than they give themselves credit for. These are the people who make me want to chant like my grandchildren do when I am on the trampoline in the backyard "Do it, Do it, Just Do it." Practice at this stage I think is where practice is no longer as much about learning as it is transferring the skills to muscle memory - you begin to acquire a repertoire of things you can do in your sleep - if you give yourself credit for this or not.
Conscious competence: This stage is pretty obvious - you can do it and you rely on those skills. Only practice and pushing through the previous three stages gets you here.
However I personally think this is the most dangerous stage. This is when you think you know it all, or are so confident in your skills, that you can close the book on learning. This is me who jumps right into a new pattern and doesn't read the instructions because, well you know, I am so smart. But of course lots of the time I am not. How many mistakes have I made because I didn't read the instructions? I am not going to tell you.
It seems to me that deciding you don't need to learn anything new is even more tricky than not knowing what you don't know yet. In systems theory any system that is closed, doesn't allow in new information (which of course means you have to embark on travelling through the first three stages of learning again) is system doomed to atrophy.
And who wants to let their sewing go there?
So what do you think? Does this make any sense to you? What of your own observations would you add?