A reflective OU MBA study and action journal on management-related topics.

Reflection and making sense of it

with 4 comments

There are a few things that have been bothering me with the idea of being a “Reflective Practitioner”. One is its reliance on self-analysis and the other is the assumption that one can adequately surface and articulate subconscious biases through language. Is what you think really relevant? Who are you informing? Do your own reflections really change anything if no one else knows about them? How do you communicate these personal mind-set changes to others?

Self-reflection is obviously an individualistic pursuit, and that means that we are limited by our own perceptions. How many of us are truly honest in our critiques of past events? Did something not turn out the right way because of the situation, or me? My seven-year-old son is adept at looking for reasons why he didn’t do anything wrong. There are always creative, situational reasons for why it wasn’t his fault. He is also quick to blame others such as me or his sibling for the issue(s). Of course he is young and immature, but I think there is a part of us that still feels this way as adults – we just internalise these thoughts. As a child, he is more willing to vocalise his worldview more fully. Does that make him more honest, or just untainted by societal views of personal responsibility?

Also, how can you measure the change in your thinking effectively from your own introspection? Yes, you can keep a diary, images, pictures and diagrams, and look back at these past entries and recordings, but isn’t there a strong chance of hindsight bias creeping in? Can we use language well enough to articulate what happened? The rose-tinted specs become ever rosier as we bury the emotional feelings and forget the details. I know I prefer to focus on the future.

One of the reasons why I decided to blog my academic reflective journal was because I could make my reasoning public. I hoped that it would expose me to other people’s views and that some people would comment and interact with my meanderings. To an extent that has happened. But have only like-minded people followed my blog? Could I be unintentionally reinforcing my worldview further? Vince and Reynolds (2008) in their paper presented at a Copenhagen conference suggest that it is a possibility.

But have I blogged enough of my thoughts properly? I know I have held back from writing some posts. I have censured my commentary from fear of looking overly radical, political, defamatory, rude, female, and emotional. This is because I am conscious I’m writing in a public space. I fear an unexpected backlash from what I write because I am new to this medium. I fear that I didn’t explain myself well enough. Was the post factually correct? If I had used a private, paper-based diary would I have been more honest and self-critical? I probably would have just barbecued the pages with the entries I didn’t like. A literal bonfire of the vanities would have occurred.

Even though group reflection complements introspection, I think there is an issue surrounding looking weak in front of others that can hold the learning process back. For example, there is a clip of Sir Fred Goodwin stating at a RBS shareholder meeting (in the BBC documentary “RBS – Inside the Bank that Ran out of Money”), that he was going to be “due diligence light” on the takeover of ABN AMRO because they (meaning him and the board really) had plenty of experience in big acquisitions. He used language in a very depreciating and aggressive manner to rebut the journalist’s questioning of RBS’ strategy. Language even when in an open, public forum can certainly be used as barrier to learning, particularly when it’s used as a sarcastic weapon against other people’s views.

Goodwin’s assumption was they had got it right plenty of times before so why waste money confirming what they tacitly knew already. As recent history shows us, that was a very costly mistake for the British taxpayer. If the scrutiny had occurred, RBS would have realised that ABN AMRO was exposed to plenty of US sub-prime toxic debt and would not have paid such a high price for the business. The due diligence process would have provided better information to the Board, lessening the asymmetry of the transaction, and offered a legitimate exit strategy out of the bid proceedings.

Vince and Reynolds (2008) answer to the weaknesses in the reflective process is to propose a multi-faceted approach to reflective practice. They argue that reflective practice needs to move away from the individual and encompass four types of reflection as illustrated in their matrix below:

An individual wishing to interrogate their perceptions could work through all the areas with others in order to think more openly about the issue and how it related to them and the organisation. On the surface this does seem like a practical approach, but I think it could still be open to group think, individual agendas, and bias if it is not facilitated well.

I imagine a lot of organisations would view it as resource intensive and expensive. In the sense that employees are away from the coal face reflecting on what went wrong instead of focusing on future wins. In my experience, team building days, personal development/training budgets, and meetings are viewed as unnecessary luxuries when budgets are being squeezed. Whether this is the right approach in the long run is irrelevant if organisations measure themselves and employees on quarterly success.


Vince, R., & Reynolds, M. (2008). Organizing Reflective Practice Organization Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities Conference (April 28 – 30 )


Written by ona76

06/01/2012 at 9:39 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Great stuff! You may be interested in my take at http://www.doceo.co.uk/heterodoxy/reflection.htm


    06/01/2012 at 11:30 pm

    • Thanks for your link to your site James. I’ve been dipping in and out over the last few days, and I’m pleased that some of my comments on the limitations of individual reflection are legitimate criticisms 🙂

      I will certainly be following up on some of your references for my next assigment. I have also re-read some undergraduate papers I have on semiotics and the limitations of language and Sparrow’s ideas of many ways of knowing: visual, unconscious, group etc


      12/01/2012 at 9:30 am

  2. Hello,

    I connected to what you wrote here, “Even though group reflection complements introspection, I think there is an issue surrounding looking weak in front of others that can hold the learning process back.” When I first started reflective blogging, this idea held me back. I’m not saying that I don’t hold somethings back now, but I can say that I am more willing to be vulnerable now. I think I was able to make this shift because I realized that many people appreciate honesty.

    Looking forward to reading more of your ideas on reflective practice!


    23/01/2012 at 2:29 pm

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