Our Key Takeaway From 2018

John Liston
Director | Adviser
December 19, 2018

A few weeks ago we had our office Christmas party on a Friday afternoon at The Garden State Hotel. I was making an informal presentation to our staff about the year that we’ve had and congratulating everyone on their efforts. It was during this presentation that it dawned on me, this has been one of the most significant years in the history of our firm.

  • We went through a complete rebrand and changed our name
  • We refurbished our office
  • We built a new website
  • We went through a team restructure
  • We were recognised for 6 different awards in our industry
  • We held quarterly events both online and at our office
  • We invested in monthly digital advertising campaigns
  • We poured time into communicating regularly with clients through social media and newsletters

All this change got me thinking… what was so different about this year? Why were we able to achieve so much more in 2018?

And my conclusion led me to one of the most well-known concepts in psychology- The Hierarchy of Competence. The below diagram explains the 4 stages of learning, and of course the most important part of learning – awareness. Because unless you know where your weaknesses lie, you can’t do anything about it, right?

hierarchy of competence


“I don’t know what I don’t know.”

This is the most dangerous place to be.  You are unaware of what you don’t know.  You think you are right because you don’t know otherwise.  You try to do things yourself or don’t understand the complexities of a situation.  One of the best ways to get out of this stage is to make a habit of having a curious mind so you can expose yourself to books or podcasts on the issues that you think that you know so well.


“I know what I don’t know.”

This stage is when you have done enough reading and research to comprehend what you don’t know. Once you dig into a subject, you realise there is a whole labyrinth of information and strategies you were unaware of 6 months ago.  


“I grow and know, and it starts to show.”

This is when you start to gain an understating of a complex issue, and you can begin to navigate it by focusing your attention and utilising the knowledge you have gained to solve a problem.  In our business, we are always building graduates from consciously incompetent, to consciously competent so that they can solve increasingly complex problems.  


“I simply go because of what I know.”

This is achieved after many years of focus and repetition.  You become so good at performing a task or solving a problem, that you can do it without thinking.  For example, a surgeon who knows exactly what to do in a high-pressure situation.

So why is this relevant to the year that we’ve had as a firm?

Because we’ve been reminded that this awareness of where you sit within this diagram is crucial when levelling up as a business. It allows you to continue to grow and avoids you from getting stagnant because of comfort.

But awareness isn’t enough. There needs to be action taken, so you are being diligent about the services or products you are offering. This is when a brand really stands out from their competitors, when they showcase their integrity to a partner or a customer by sourcing specialists outside of their business to help pull it all together. Because sometimes we need to remind ourselves that it’s okay if we don’t know all the answers. And that there’s actually nothing wrong with being in the consciously incompetent section, so long as we are in the process of becoming more competent.

One of the most prominent examples of this for our business was admitting that we weren’t competent enough to build a new website or run a successful digital advertising campaign without the help of specialists in that field. We knew that if we wanted to scale and achieve our big goals as a firm, then we needed to leave our pride at the door and seek advice from specialists in an industry that we knew little about.

This extends to client problems too, if we are presented with a sticky situation which we’ve not had much experience with, then we naturally make contact with the specialists in that field (whether it be law, property etc.) and find the right solution. We seek the ‘surgeons’ in that area who can complete the task with unconscious competence.

So as we end the year and reflect on the amount of change we’ve gone through as a business, we have a little less fear than we did previously, because of our willingness to be honest with ourselves about where our blind spots are. Change and disruption are more prominent now than ever before, and that’s going to continue being the case in the years to come. No matter how long a business has been in the industry, there are constant evolutions with new technology, new government legislation, new business models, the list goes on. So we encourage you to look at your business in 2019 with this Hierarchy of Competence in mind and plan for any of your blind spots.