Why experience without reflection is just repetition

Claudine Blamey, chair of the ICRS and head of sustainability and stewardship at the Crown Estate on why time for reflection is an under rated leadership skill.


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How often do you sit and reflect?  When you complete an important piece of work, do you take 20 minutes to think about the process?  Do you jot down what went well? What might have been improved?  How you felt about the project and what you’d change next time around?  If you do, you’re probably in the minority, but reflective practice is one of the most important personal and professional development tools available.  

As the American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” 

Learning requires reflection

Dewey’s concept is backed by research conducted by a Harvard Business School study that concluded that reflection, defined as ‘the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience,’ made learning from direct experience more effective.

The importance of reflection is a lesson that I learned, not through business, but while learning martial arts when I was 18.  Learning how to use what you have to your advantage and being cognisant of why one move worked while another didn’t proved to be an essential part of the learning and progression.  It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me throughout my career. 

Reflection needs practice

The same Harvard study also concluded that given the option of gaining more experience with a task or spending the same amount of time reflecting on their performance with the task, most individuals opted for experience, but to the detriment of their learning.

This perhaps isn’t surprising in a world where ‘doing’ is so highly prized. Thinking and reflecting can appear passive by comparison, despite the enormous power of the practice.  In any role that calls for innovation, it is the ability to experiment, reflect on results and adjust accordingly, that helps individuals to move themselves, their teams and their organisations forward.    

I was reflecting on this yesterday when I heard someone say, ‘No, he doesn’t have ten years experience – he has two years experience repeated five times.’   

Find out more about how the Institute can support your continuous professional development and how to become an organisational member at https://icrs.info

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