Developing a circle of competence loop

4 minute read

Benton Moss of Circle of Competence recently published a revised framework of how he thinks about developing a circle of competence. My thoughts on the document are below:

When you have skin in the project or posted it publicly, you know [sic] are learning about the topic from new angles and have new questions you wouldn’t have known to ask when you begin.

Cunningham’s law is a famous saying that “the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.” It takes some courage [1] to write on a topic online and be exposed to feedback. However, the pushback and debate that you get will inspire you in new ways. More importantly, it could also help you change your mind on a topic if you’re open minded. I’ve written before that I’d rather be proven wrong as early as possible. Posting publicly to get a discussion going is a high leverage way of doing so.

You now have more investment into an idea/project and thus it’s more important and challenging to keep yourself objective and see the pitfalls with your idea/project.

I have low faith in anyone’s self-awareness, including my own. Besides having decision journals or well designed checklist processes, another way to keep yourself objective is to continue the external feedback loop regularly, so that the overall project remains objective.

Benton revised his process from a goal-oriented one into a cyclical one instead, having a loop of curiousity -> knowledge -> conviction -> action. Having learning be a continous process makes sense! Your curiousity leads you to learn more about a topic, leading you to increase your conviction in taking the next action. The deeper you go into a topic, the more you realise there’s such a depth the the field that you haven’t thought about before. For an example, just pick any hobby that you enjoy. There will inevitably be some skill or output that looks unimpressive to the layman but is incredibly difficult to execute, and vice versa as well [2].

There’s one more step that I’d want to add to this loop. The role of feedback is already been implied within the loop itself, but I think it’s important enough to make it explicit as the next step after ‘action’. After you take an action, you should seek feedback on that action. This will give you new avenues to explore, continuing the curiousity cycle.

The ultimate outcomes of exponential processes are limited by the feedback loops which fuel their growth and the size of their domain space.

Obvious, but worth pointing out that it is the net growth rate that matters, not the gross. If your process grows quickly but then shrinks equally quick with a net growth rate of 0, you’ve had high speed but no velocity. Compounding is a great force but only works if you’re not being reset all the time.

Human knowledge accumulation. This represents a very LONG runway on the individual level. Why? Because the fuel for an individual’s growth is all of humanity’s previously accumulated knowledge.

I agree the runway is long, since there’s so much knowledge available. It’s unlikely you’ll be the foremost expert in one sector, let alone multiple ones. The problem now is what is your net growth rate on the individual level. I’ve gained knowledge in many areas since leaving college, but also lost knowledge in areas I thought I’d never forget. I hope that on net I’ve grown, but I’m actually unsure.

Economic growth. Opinions will differ on this, but I am a cautious optimist on the future of human innovation and believe there is a long runway for economic growth, provided we continue to make technological progress.

I’m inclined to agree here. There has always been pessimism about the future, as the pessimists archive shows. However, human life on the whole seems to be in a better state than the past [3]. Barring some extinction event, it seems likely we’ll continue building on our progress.

I believe in the next few centuries - I’d love others’ thoughts and any resources here - humanity should focus on space exploration more rather than less.

I’m not knowledgeable about space, but would agree here. The costs of exploration seem incredibly high, but not expanding our domain space by definition limits us to the Earth and its finite resources. Unless we start having a net negative growth rate, we will run out of resources. And a net negative growth rate implies every year from then on is worse than the prior. Somehow I don’t envy living in that kind of world.


  1. Or foolhardy ignorance I suppose
  2. There are many flashy cocktails that are horrible to drink, to give a direct example.
  3. I disagree with Yuval Noah Harari here and do not think that lifestock etc have had a more successful progression than humans.

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