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Posts Tagged ‘Reflection’

Hambleden valley

Hambleden valley

Two-thirds of the way through the MBA starter workshops, and I sometimes wonder how it must look to new programme members to kick-off with such a large dose of introspection and self-awareness (wrapped up in the stress of meeting lots of new people, enfolded in the enormity of a two or three year course of education). There’s so much potential ‘data’ in the room, how much of it is available to them as information? And how much of that information is going to be absorbed? And what do we want them to do with their thoughts (other than i) have them, ii) record them)? Do they see the bigger picture, “connect the dots” as recent one programme member put it, or are things being filed away? These thoughts are prompted by two things.

1. At the end of the packed, hectic starter workshop that has just finished at Henley, attended by 52 managers from four international locations (and, truthfully, from a great many different backgrounds and nationalities), I felt a mix of  fatigue, frustration and anticipation. Fatigue because unlike for some spending the day out “in front” managing a class drains my energy. For some it’s the opposite, but I need to stare at a wall for a while to re-charge. Frustrated because it’s so hard to make the event a proper conversation. We have so much to “get across”, or think we do, that we’re afraid of leaving any gaps, or inviting offers to go off into different directi0ns. PowerPoint doesn’t help, but neither does it excuse. And anticipation because I finally feel like I am working to a Personal Development idea that tells a good story, and that over the life of the MBA is saying something different. The workshop is rewarding partly because I know we don’t have to (in fact, shouldn’t) answer questions. We have time to consider the thing from many angles.

2. On the plane over to Denmark this afternoon I was reading more of Alan Watts “The Book” (Souvenir Press), and I got to the final chapter, which opens with this:

“JUST AS true humor is laughter at oneself, true humanity is knowledge of oneself. Other creatures may love and laugh, talk and think, but it seems to be the special peculiarity of human beings that they reflect: they think about thinking and know that they know. This, like other feedback systems, may lead to vicious circles and confusions if improperly managed, but self-awareness makes human experience resonant. It imparts that simultaneous “echo” to all that we think and feel as the box of a violin reverberates with the sound of the strings. It gives depth and volume to what would otherwise be shallow and flat.

Self-knowledge leads to wonder, and wonder to curiosity and investigation, so that nothing interests people more than people, even if only one’s own person. Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know. For the human organism is, apparently, the most complex of all organisms, and while one has the advantage of knowing one’s own organism so intimately— from the inside—there is also the disadvantage of being so close to it that one can never quite get at it. Nothing so eludes conscious inspection as consciousness itself. This is why the root of consciousness has been called, paradoxically, the unconscious. The people we are tempted to call clods and boors are just those who seem to find nothing fascinating in being human; their humanity is incomplete, for it has never astonished them. There is also something incomplete about those who find nothing fascinating in being. You may say that this is a philosopher’s professional prejudice—that people are defective who lack a sense of the metaphysical. But anyone who thinks at all must be a philosopher—a good one or a bad one—because it is impossible to think without premises, without basic (and in this sense, metaphysical) assumptions about what is sensible, what is the good life, what is beauty, and what is pleasure.” (Watts, 1966, pp 139-140)

Curious, but this is pretty much what I had on my mind in the closing session of the workshop on Sunday. Reflection, wonder, curiosity and not knowing.

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Model for PD at Henley

Those of you reading this who also maintain a Twitter account probably already know that with a little thought and some clever connecting, you can access a whole range of contacts, ideas, knowledge and links related to your interests or career there. If you have included being active on Twitter in the category of ‘Personal Branding’ and make use of it professionally in conjunction with, for example, LinkedIn, then it probably pays for you to spend some time giving irection to the list of those you are following (whilst keeping track of a whole load of wacky topics, celebs and funny tweeters as well).

Twitter, the micro-blogging website where any post is limited to 140 characters in length (in case you’ve been in the back of beyond for the last 5 years) encourages further exploration in two ways. First by you searching for #hash-tag denoted words, and the second by you searching for and then following “@” named users.

I was thinking about the things that interest me on this blog, and I came up with four categories to make some recommendations to check out and perhaps follow. Any text below that is in quotation marks is just the verbatim description from that Tweeter’s description, other comments are my own.

A. MBA
There are way too many resources on Twitter catering to all aspects of the MBA to cover in four, so this would need further expansion in the future, but here are my ideas:

1. @econwhichMBA
“The official Economist account for news and insights for Which MBA”. The Economist has a sales boost in its MBA ranking system, and business schools do their best to be the best in the list.

2. @TopMBA
A useful source of information from the company that organises many MBA fairs and events around the world. Worth looking at their web site.

3. @businessbecause
A networking account for those at all stages of their MBA. A bit “hit and miss” on the content of its tweets, but often with interesting links to articles etc.

4. @sustainableMBA
Just one example, of many possible choices, of an account run by someone with an MBA. Included here because I think the interest in sustainable businesses is vital for the MBA in the future

B. Personal Development
This is a huge category, and difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff (often bland or folksy quotes or endlessly re-churned lists). Avoiding the mundane PD self-help/self-improvement types, here are four possibilities:

5. @_robin_sharma
Interesting take on PD, Robin is a widely read author (I mean that in both senses)

6. @paulocoelho
Writer. Read on.

7. @alanwattsdaily
Not him, obviously, since sadly Alan died in the 1970s, but a way to see his eloquence, Tweet by Tweet

8. @careerealism
“Because every job is temporary”, Career and Job Search Resource

C. Reflective practice, education and management learning

This is quite wide as well, and actually there aren’t too many people dedicated to reflection in learning on Twitter.

9. @edutopia
“Inspiration and information for what works in education” Covers all types of education, so have to pick and choose from their links

10. @presentationzen
Garr Reynolds, author of a book designed (beautifully) to guide people away from awful powerpoint. Worth combining with Nancy Duarte’s “Resonate” and “Slide:ology” books, which all MBAs should own.

11. @sirkenrobinson
He of the classic TED.com presentations…

12. @hansrosling
He of the legendary TED.com presentations…

D. Systems thinking, Gregory Bateson, constellations and related stuff…

Could go anywhere, and include anything…

13. @whittingtonjohn
John is an amazing constellation therapist and professional developer.

14. @norabateson
Gregory’s youngest daughter, film-maker, thinker… director of the film  www.anecologyofmind.com

15. @eckharttolle

Eckhart is, er, actually, he’s a bit hard to define. Not always my style, but worth looking into, so to speak

16. @carolinelucas

Britain’s first ever Green MP!

Happy hunting. If anyone can recommend any sites in any of the categories above that they think worthy of a mention, then add a comment below.

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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.

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It’s been a long while since I last posted to the blog. Part inertia, part actually off doing some serious first-draft writing for the PhD and part being busy delivering quite a few workshops in the UK and elsewhere over the last couple of months. 

Being on the road has been literal, but also (as are so many things) metaphorical. When I was at that age (“that” age was, for me, the period 17 – 23) where travel was the route out of where I was, the effort of getting and staying on the road was no effort at all. It was all new, all part of the experience, and in some cases it was the experience – and when you got there, you were still in the middle of travel.  You may not have liked everything, or not dreamt of being home again, but the thrill of being somewhere else (the trouble it took you to get there) was always more heady.

Now, and perhaps because I spent so many years living away from the UK, travel abroad seems so much more routine, and the routes that get you from A to B are only there to be endured and forgotten as quickly as possible. Especially if it is an airport. My recent trip to South Africa was probably a good illustration of this – how blase I have become (nice car to the airport, Terminal 5 – quiet, airy – the Lounge at BA, tiny bit of shopping, an up-grade to business (and some sleep!), limited interest in the on-board gadgets – picked up at the other end…. and so on. The destination remains a joy and full of joy and surprises, so at least that part of travel remains, but the getting there? Routine.

When modern travel routine get interrupted,  as it did on my return from South Africa last week, we tend to get indignant, don’t we? I think this is a mistake. Note the frustration (and note it in those around us), acknowledge it, for sure, but then detach yourself from it and you can really start to notice what’s going on. It’s very liberating.

Like, for instance, the guy (clearly a frequent business class traveller) who was behind me in the re-ticketing queue at Jo’burg airport after BA had cancelled the flight we were all (literally) on, and who felt the need to engineer his way in front of me in the queue. I don’t think his attitude will contribute to a longer or more satisfying life.

 

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I have, in common with many others, been inculcated to accept an assumption that education is the process of preparation for being something else, that it is a means to the arrival at a desirable destination. The problem, however, is that you never quite get there. When you get through one round of education you discover that somehow the target has moved and in fact you have only got through to another level of preparation for another ‘something’ or another ‘somewhere else’.

This assumption is necessarily built on another – i.e. that you are not “fully cooked”. Education, it turns out, is a sort of perpetual game of “jam tomorrow”, an insoluble problem of identity formation. What if we have this idea about our education system back to front? What if we assumed instead that everyone who came to education was already “there”? In other words, and to paraphrase (crudely) Alan Watts, how would things change if we were to assume that education is not so much about being on probation for when you ‘really’ start being a proper person, in a future that is separate and remote from now? What if its function were to wake you up to the idea that all those distinctions between past, present and future identities are false? Here, the assumption becomes “It only ever happens in the now”.

I suspect that very few managers who come back to school for their MBA would be happy with the idea that they were already there, even though that’s one of the things they might accept when, on reflection (you might say), it’s all over.

Just a thought while I reflect on the past few days here in Trinidad and wait for the car to the airport.

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I’m preparing to head south on my annual migration to the southern hemisphere for the March MBA starter workshop in Johannesburg.

As usual, I’m reflecting (pre-flecting?) on what’s to come, on how I’ll work with colleagues and new members of the MBA, what state of mind I want them to be in at various points, and so on…

It occurred to me, not for the first time, that reflection is not possible except when we are able to distinguish it as such, which means differentiating it from that which is not reflection. The two are interdependent and inextricably linked. This is how we find the outline of one, against the other. Hardly earth shattering? Maybe. Yet a crucial point precisely because we take it for granted.

So how do we know the difference, in general? This is occupying me, so I may return to this over the coming days as I blog the workshop.

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Just over a year ago I undertook another month-long challenge on this blog. Rather than a different photo each day I undertook to follow a fairly long interview protocol designed to explore and reflect on my own personal narrative.

The second post of that sequence was a pre-amble, a word or two about definitions and various models of reflection, by way of setting the scene for what was to come next. The model I mentioned in that post, that of Atkins and Murphy developed in nursing training, and I have noticed that even after 12 months it still receives a steady stream of hits.Atkins and Murphy, it seems, is fairly often searched for on Google.

This prompted me to revisit that blog entry and see what I had said, and whether my thinking has changed since. As to what I wrote, I’m actually quite pleased with it – I think what I said makes some sense and holds together. At the same time, my feeling about models has changed. I’m no longer so sure that they are the be-all and end-all for understanding reflection. Do people really follow the phases, and if they don’t, well does that mean they’re not reflecting? Do we shoe-horn what is actually happening into these labels and categorisations?

I’m sure that a model can be helpful up to a point, but is also an invitation to miss both the subtlety of the learning process and the myriad elements which just don’t fit on the page or the in the paradigm of the researchers who came up with it. In the Atkins and Murphy case, ultimately it boils down to a mix of good ol’ North American pragmatism/behaviourism/scientific method (echoes of Kolb) mixed with a dash of mild critical reflection that can incorporate a questioning of underlying assumptions and inclusion of room for emotion and feeling.

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