Competence is the enemy of change

Years before we had ‘Good is the enemy of great,’ we had Seth Godin in Fast Company:

Competent people resist change. Why? Because change threatens to make them less competent. And competent people like being competent. That’s who they are, and sometimes that’s all they’ve got. No wonder they’re not in a hurry to rock the boat. . . . In the face of change, the competent are helpless.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to change … to reinvent … or to redesign. No, it doesn’t take time; it takes will. The will to change. The will to take a risk. The will to become incompetent – at least for a while.

See also my implementation dip post from last year.

6 Responses to “Competence is the enemy of change”

  1. This is a great quote, Scott—-

    Do you think it carries even greater weight in today’s accountability culture where “failure” has great consequences for schools, principals and educators?

    Is innovation—which is nothing more than intentional steps away from competence—-less likely when one indicator is used to determine the quality of everyone involved in education?

    Interesting stuff….
    Bill

  2. Kia ora Scott!

    We, as teachers, strive for our learners to gain conmpetence in much that we attempt to teach them. That worthy ‘achievable’ gets the accolade from the start.

    The cutting reality is that incompetence is often a feature of beginners, who tend to accept what ultimately may lead to their competence. For them change is not usually recognised at first.

    So an environment rich in change will tend to favour the ‘beginner’ who is likely to become competent and push the ‘expert’ into the background.

    What this fosters is a lack of genuine expertise that is recognised as such. ‘Experts’ then become so by appointment, rather than by experience.

    Folly, folly.

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

  3. In some areas I have often been a resister to change. For example, I insisted on having XP installed on my new computer instead of Vista, since I’ve heard nothing good about Vista. I resisted Windows also when it came out, because I could work much faster using DOS. These days out technical tools are changing constantly, and I do resent the time it takes even to learn some new feature on the update to Firefox that comes every two weeks or so it seems. It’s hard to get your technical skills honed in these days and stay competent. But I have certainly learned how to figure out a new system, and that is useful.

  4. In Peter Senge’s terms it takes “personal mastery”. The mode where someone is continually learning and where the individual has a calling and a vision of where they want to go. It’s a continuous journey where someone is aware of his/her strengths and areas for growth. It also requires a self-confidence where the person is not afraid to step outside his/her comfort zone. It’s exciting yet nerve wracking. Most of us probably take the easy road.

  5. I have come to realize that my competence only lasts as long as the lesson. When a lesson is successful, I begin to think of ways to improve it. Often, I have wondered why I just cannot leave well enough alone. Simply, it is not enough. Thank you for a quote that justifies re-doing a good plan to make it better. I agree with Blair Peterson. It is living on the edge!

  6. This is certainly true in schools where teachers want to be the expert. I would guess it is also why the older we get the more resistant to change we are. We equate age with wisdom and thus becoming less than the expert gets even more frightening. In business it means we can be replaced, in education it means that we are not worth the extra dollars we are getting due to our tenure. We “need” to be experts and thus avoid entering into a situation where we may not know the answers. We have to change this thought process. We need to be content with being expert lifelong learners and not afraid to tell our students that we don’t know, but we can find out together.

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