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The 4 Stages of Creative Competence

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

Ever heard this phrase in a meeting? “I’m not a creative, but…”

That’s because a lot of people think they’re not creative. Or even worse, a creative.

But maybe creativity is more nurture than nature.

In psychology, there are 4 general stages of competence. Unconsciously Incompetent, Consciously Incompetent, Consciously Competent, and Unconsciously Competent.

If we apply them to creative competence, can we hack our way to creative stardom?

Unconsciously Incompetent

You gotta love the sound of that. You’re incompetent, but you don’t even know it. How sweet and oblivious. We’ve all been there, creatively or not, but there is hope. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and we’re up for a hike.

Consciously Incompetent

The key word here is progress. You’ve gained enough awareness to know what a good creative is. You’re also painfully aware that you are not one (yet). I felt this on my first day in an agency. But hang in there my creative conqueror, it gets better by the day.

Consciously Competent

This is where it gets interesting. After painfully assessing your creative inadequacies, you make conscious efforts to gain some sort of skill.

For me, this was during my junior days as a copywriter when I would deconstruct award-winning ads in nerdy patterns and try to reproduce them in a very mechanical way. I still deconstruct everything around me, of course, but I fondly remember those days.

Unconsciously Competent

This is the mastery level. The 10,000-hour black belt pro league. You’ve gained enough muscle memory to just create - effortlessly, unconsciously, and brilliantly. The universe just sprinkles ideas onto the world through your pen, keyboard, and Notes app. You’ve checked into creative Nirvana.

But, as much as I’d like to suggest I’m stuck at stage 4, the truth is we’re all constantly fluctuating between 1 and 4. Sometimes realizing (or not) how mediocre we are, sometimes bitterly deconstructing someone else’s work, and other times receiving brilliant ideas in the prophetic shower.

Whichever stop you are at in your career, just remember this: there are no geniuses, just people who stuck to it even when they sucked at it.

Wishing you all a level 4-type week!

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