The Circle of Competence: A Mental Model to Avoid Mistakes

What do you really know?

There’s probably a lot you think you know, but when push comes to shove you actually don’t know it. That’s the key lesson of the Circle of Competence mental model.

And understanding one’s circle of competence leads to more informed decisions and accelerated success.

A sketchnote summary of Warren Buffets Circle of Competence mental model that says you need to know what your are good at and stick to it. There's a man in an island of "what I know".

What is your circle of competence?

The circle of competence is the area where you have true expertise and understanding.

Outside that circle is a large one of things you “think” you know or have some limited skill in. Beyond that, there is the sea of complete ignorance (or the “things “we don’t know we don’t know” as Dick Cheney quipped).

Knowing the boundaries between these areas is crucial.

The importance of self-awareness

Countless mistakes are made by “thinking” we know what we don’t actually know.

It might be ignorance or ego that drives these mistakes, but they come from overstepping our bounds.

Having the humility and introspection to recognise your limitations allows you to make better decisions.

Applying the circle of competence

There are three lessons from the circle of competences

  1. Know what you are competent in, and where you are not.
  2. Stick to what you do well.
  3. if you aren’t competent
    1. Avoid it
    2. Get someone else to do it
    3. Build up your skills in that area

It can be tempting to think we need to be skilled or know everything, but really that’s just egotistical. We all have blind spots and that is why it’s better to collaborate with others.

It’s better to focus on your strengths than your weaknesses.

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