Novice, Practitioner, Expert, Ninja – what do they mean?

Posted 7 years ago

The novice to ninja ‘levels’ that we’ve used in the Skills Quiz were developed by Activist Skills and Knowledge [ASK].

Nobody could manage to be an expert in more than a few of these areas at once, and ninjas… well maybe that’s largely something to aspire to. After all, even ninjas have something to learn as well as something to share.

Here ASK describe what being a novice, practitioner, expert or ninja means…


Level 1 (“novice”)

  • Has a basic understanding and ability to do tasks in this sphere with some or no support in a relatively unpressured situation.
  • If unable to achieve goals, will refer to mentor

Level 2 (“practitioner”)

  • Has a more advanced understanding of the issues
  • Able to operate effectively under constraints of time, pressure, with minimal or no assistance.
  • Implements tactics to achieve goals and can improvise
  • If unable to achieve goals, will refer to mentor


Level 3 (“expert”)

  • Able to operate in conditions of uncertainty and stress, directing the work of a small team
  • Willing and able to improve the skills of level 1 people if they ask for help
  • Able to implement new ideas proposed by level 4 practitioners


Level 4 (“ninja”)

  • Able to perform complex tasks in conditions of high uncertainty, stress and conflict, in reduced time with minimal/zero mentorship (this does not exclude emotional support, using other people as sounding boards- no person is an island, after all)
  • Able to effectively lead small teams of people using collaborative leadership tools
  • Able to reflect on the successes and failures of individuals and groups and draw out broad principles rather than specific items, and explain them in appropriate ways at appropriate times.
  •  Able to bring new ways of acting/organising into a culture from other spheres of life, explain the benefits and teach those who want to be taught these new ways of acting. (There’s no point say successfully change a culture – nobody can guarantee to do that!)
  • Able to innovate new tactics/ideas/etc [NB This is NOT to say people at ‘levels 1 to 3’ have no useful insights!]


Remember… Calling someone a Ninja is a little tongue in cheek. In the real world, most of the time, skills exist in distribution, and are unlocked by collaboration. The conductor doesn’t play every part in the orchestra, after all.

Sure, the David v Goliath myth is pernicious. In the real world, David only defeats Goliath if he brings all his mates.