The title of this post is explained at the end, so read on to find out – or skip to the bottom.
After a sprint through several Personal Development workshops in January, both at Henley and in several European countries, it’s perhaps time for a breather to see what needs to be noticed. A while ago I might have just said “time to reflect”, as a lot us do, as if the act of reflection was somehow predicated on a deliberate switch from one mode or model of thinking to another. I’m now no longer sure this is a helpful way to look at it. And even less sure that it’s truly accurate. I’m using some of this post as a space for ideas to work themselves around each other, and so want to ask whether there are any things to do with reflection about which one can be sure. The short list below covers some of what has been occurring to me lately:
1. It struck me the other day that the senses are not five in number but actually one, in sum. Our demarcation of one sense from another in perception is artificial. This makes perfect sense to me, though I think the idea would need expansion to convince anyone else. This means that reflection, like all perception, is actually a systemic process, not a systematic one. Unless we understand how systems work, we will never understand the function that reflection has in our learning. I think that the ideas of many of the seminal originators of reflection, in their own ways acknowledge this. But those complex ideas tend to become worn smooth over time by constant reproduction, reinterpretation and simplification by others.
2. What we call reflection is just our punctuation of what is actually a constant flow of experience. We can’t easily prevent ourselves doing this since we hold very dearly to the idea that conscious purpose is, to borrow Sellar and Yeatman’s memorable phrase, “a good thing”. The need to know “to what end?” drives many different varieties of and purposes for reflection, but in every case the process we use is much the same. While helpful in the short-term and therefore essential in formal learning among adults, ultimately our attachment to and affection for conscious purpose in reflection may be counter-productive and in error (right now, this is just a hunch!).
3. Two common denominators seem to anchor everyone’s experience of reflection. The first is that it involves some form of noticing a difference, and the second is that the difference noticed will relate in some way to “unfinished business”. I hope I will be able to expand on this (even explain it…) in future blog postings.
So, that’s my current bedside thinking and my rehearsal of big ideas. The workshops this month have been really fantastic to run. They have, I think, really hit the spot with their place in the curriculum, and are in tune with the collective experience of the intakes at that point. I think this makes all the difference. There are just some things that would be pointless to say at the start (unless one was planning to dump an “I told you so” on people later) but which are liberating to play with later on. For example, I’m glad we don’t start the MBA with lots of goal setting, but with a challenge to how people behave, think and see themselves. If you don’t get that bit right, then the planning would probably resemble the shape of the past, not the future. Also, talking about what “career” means doesn’t make much sense too early in the MBA. Generally, people who are in mid-career don’t need to make any decisions about career steps and goals until they have a certain vocabulary, fluency and confidence which is attained through hard work by about the mid-point. That is actually when career things tend to happen anyway. So I’m glad that the thoughtful approach seems to be paying off. Still, there are always ways in which this could be better, and I’m aware that there is more that is needed in order for the MBA experience to be something remarkable.
This month I was also able to start playing with application of ideas and thinking from the PhD for the first time. This is to a group which was less restricted than in the context of the MBA, and therefore a good challenge because that particular audience was not a captive one (the venue, Gam3 in Copenhagen was unusual too, and it’s worth checking out their web site to see why).
It went pretty much as I had hoped, though I talked more than I let them talk. I was left also wondering whether I could do such a thing without having PowerPoint blazing away in the background. I do try to use it as a graphic guide or creative prompt, and not as just a horribly magnified set of speaker notes, but even so. The best speakers on TED seem to be the ones who just, well, speak, and who hold the audience with the power of imagination and the eloquence of their choice of words. Have I become so entrenched in believing that “it is done this way” (and the PD workshops are no different – the tyranny of the slide pack is also part of the expectation of the group) that I may be missing something here…?
So, the title of this blog is my understanding of the Laws of Jante (10 rules set out originally in the 1930s in a novel by Aksel Sandemose), which amount to a cultural explanation of the collective attitude in Danish society toward the delicate relationship between the individual success and the group identity. “You’re not to think you are anything special” is the first of these, and they are deliberately written in a rather negative overtone. I don’t think this is the same as the English sentiment of not “acting above your station” because that’s an affirmation of a society with rigid class divides and appropriate behaviours at each level. The Danes are very protective, it seems, of everyone’s right to object to the idea of anyone else telling them what to think or behaving as if they were better than anyone else. I’m not sure if this means they like to “cut people down to size” who are “too big for their boots” (see how metaphor gets us from one idea to another without Passing Go…).
Anyway, I quite liked the atmosphere in Copenhagen, so they must be doing something right.