The Unconscious Incompetent

The theory of four distinct stages of competence was developed in the 1970s by Noel Burch of Gordon Training International, a global human relations training organization.

Of these four stages, the one I want to talk about is the unconscious incompetent, or the person that doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Make sure to pay attention to the feedback coming from outside your conference room.

Tell me if the following sounds familiar: You are in a meeting with your colleagues to create the next big product. You debate the different approaches you could take and during the meeting, you hear the opinions of several in the group. You finish your meeting and make a decision based on the group’s consensus of what is the best idea or even default to the strongest personality in the room. Does this really make sense?

If you are creating a new product or service that will be purchased by the end consumer, why wouldn’t you want the consumer’s opinion before you launch it? Do you think retail sales associates are important to your success when it comes to this new product or service? If you do, have you bothered to run the idea by them? In the past five years, Leggett and Platt has done a lot of research with the end consumer and I am here to tell you that I have been proven wrong MANY times by these groups – the ones that matter most. It is easy to draw on your experience in the business and let that knowledge formulate your strategy because it is easy and less expensive, and there is always that person who believes they have the best solution. There is a very good chance they are wrong.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t consider your own opinion, or the opinion of those in your committee. However, you need to stir that in with the opinion of your target audience and make a decision that avoids the old approach of doing things in a vacuum.

It kills me when people tell me that they can’t afford to do consumer research because it costs too much money. Really? What is it going to cost you to launch a new product or service, do all the work getting it ready for market, sell it to your sales force, then sell it to your customer and have it fail? We did about $75,000 of consumer research around a product that we thought for sure was going to be a huge hit in the industry. To our shock and dismay, not only did we discover we were wrong, but we also learned that our concept ranked dead last with consumers when compared to similar ideas. The question comes down to if you actually know or if you just think you know.

Making decisions with multiple data points will help you hit a home run more frequently. Unfortunately, doing this does not ensure success, so be careful when depending solely on the research. If you are not experienced with doing research, make sure you get the opinion of a professional because there is a right and a wrong way of doing it! If you want to avoid the New Coke kind of debacle, just give them a taste before you bet the bank.

What have I missed? What are you thinking?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not represent the thinking of the company I work for, or anyone else with whom I am affiliated. Except my wife of course, who is good at telling me what not to say.

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