How To Be A Success Using The Dreyfus Model Of Skill Acquisition

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Remember when you were the lowliest of low in your job?

I do.

I would get asked to go down to the local hardware store and buy 5 sky-hooks, a tin of rainbow coloured paint and a left handed pen set.


But hey, that’s how it all begins right?

We’re of little use really, we’re on the first rung of the ladder with little clue about anything at all. In fact, there’s sometimes a feeling of ‘how did I get here’. We don’t even know how to use the photocopier and we don’t know how to dial out using the telephone.

Ahh the good old days of being ignorant.

According to the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, we’re on the lowest rung at this stage of our career. A novice.

Dreyfus Model

The Dreyfus Model – The Novice

This is where we are basically told what to do and we do it. We don’t even know why we do it. We just do it.

I call this the push button mentality.

When the button turns red, you push it.

You have no idea why the button turned red.

You have no idea what happens when you push the button.

You just know that when it turns red, you better push it or else someone is going to come over to your desk and chastise you.

It reminds me of Richmond and his flashing lights;

The Dreyfus Model – The Advanced Beginner

The advanced beginner is someone who’s been around for a while. They’ve become competent in their basic role and are starting to develop some understanding of the business.

However, that knowledge is limited. It could be described as situational perception. Work has now taken on a different meaning and each task is easily recognised as a separate task. However, there’s still no real understanding of what is important and what isn’t.

In fact, the advanced beginner still treats all tasks as if they are equal importance.

They lack the ability to prioritise. Mainly because they don’t understand the relevance of each task.

Why is it important to lodge the tax forms today when the photocopier needs the toner replaced?

This can be frustrating for a manager, because as they delegate tasks they think the advanced beginner should know how to prioritise their workload. When a manager returns at the end of the day, the obvious urgent task has not been completed. Instead some unimportant job has just been finished.


The manager pulls their hair out…

If the manager could identify that their employee was An Advanced Beginner, they could have written a list of priorities and set clear time deadlines to each task.

The Dreyfus Model – Competent

Finally, some competence!

A competent staff member will be able to cope with multiple activities at once. They know what needs to be done when, and why.

They’ll start to plan their day and week.

They begin to formulate routines they can follow which helps them meet the objectives of the business.

You’ll hear them comment about their daily tasks as if they’re all strung together.

I’m currently working on the end of month report then I need to get the pays signed off and finalise the check-list for management.

They’re organised.

They systematically work through each task, each check-list and every component.

Competent staff can work autonomously. They don’t have to be micro-managed and they tend to understand their connection with the other departments they deal with on a regular basis.

At this point, they’re often promoted as a ‘senior’ and are no longer treated as a ‘junior’ in the company.

It’s also around the time that people tend to look for other opportunities. They’re confident that they have skills other companies need. They may look for a job that offers better conditions and more pay. Depending on the current place of employment, they might be too valuable to lose if they’re not easily replaced.

The Dreyfus Model – Proficient

This is the bigger picture.

Finally, you’ve learned how to be proficient in your job. You now can appreciate a holistic view of the role you play in the business plus the role of others.

Subtleties now flag warnings that would otherwise go unnoticed.

A great chef for example can sense if a pan is too hot, by the aroma of the oil in it. An apprentice on the other hand would let this go undetected.

You begin to work by maxims. Ground rules you put in place that override your decision making and actions.

“The customer is always right” is a maxim. It’s not one I necessarily agree with, however some do and they make decisions and take actions based on that philosophy.

“A product is worth what people will pay for it” is another maxim that proficient people use.

In this place of proficiency you can now work in a higher state of mind. Your decisions are now more intuitive instead of reactionary or solely based on data.

It’s in this stage that entrepreneurship is a real possibility.

The Dreyfus Model – Mastery

This is where you become less reliant on rules, guidelines and maxims. Instead, you’re a visionary. You can see what is possible and how to implement it.

In minutes, you can use your analytical mind to dissect a problem or situation and come up with a suitable solution.

You have a deeper understanding of the nuances that are often overlooked by others.

Mastery is a place where you can truly begin to mentor others. You cross over from one market segment to another with relative ease. You can perceive situations and outcomes and reduce risk significantly.

If you’re wondering who has achieved this level, think of the Shark Tank, or Dragons Den. They’re business masters.

They can look at an idea, a concept, and pick if it has an opportunity for great success.

They understand the complexities of the difference facets of industry. The markets, pricing and so on.

Where to from here?

The next question is where to from here?

How can you personally use the Dreyfus model to accelerate your own personal growth?

First, identify yourself.

The first step would be to identify where you are at within the model.

Are you a novice or advanced beginner?

If you’re a novice or advanced beginner, your focus should be on learning your craft, refining your skills and start to recognise the bigger picture. Keep a positive attitude towards learning new skills. Ask questions. Offer to take up new tasks whenever opportunities arise.

Being competent

If you have reached competence, then you can decide if you want to work for yourself or stay working for another business. Freelancing is a viable avenue for you to earn a living.

Starting a business in the early days of competence might prove too difficult a challenge for most. However I wouldn’t rule it out.

If you freelance you’re going to become exposed to a lot of business fundamentals. Winning work. Competing on price. Creating a point of difference. Basic invoicing, accounting and cash flow forecasts.

All of these skills are required to create and run a successful business.

Proficient & expert levels

Your skills at this level mean you have the widest range of choices.

You can switch businesses, switch industries completely or identify and launch your own business.

Once you’re here, things are less scary. You have a vault of wealth to draw from, not only for yourself but those around you.

Share it.

Teach it.

Help others grow and you’ll grow yourself. Plus, the world needs you. You have a great opportunity to make a big difference to others.

Try not to laud yourself over others. That’s a right turn-off.

Since you have vision, that can sustain you on your new enterprise. Impart that vision to others and you can easily build a team that grows with you.