What most companies (and economies) don’t do is to stop doing — and that’s a self-defeating problem,” says Umair Haque, author and management thinker. Why is this a problem? Amidst the daily rush of meetings, tasks, and deadlines, we miss a crucial activity: reflection.

Reflection is the practice of serious thought and deep questioning of our actions. For many of us, this practice remains occasional and mostly occurs during performance reviews. Reason: the common viewpoint is that we learn as we do, emphasizing the role of doing more than reflecting.

Though researchers Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats, stress that “learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection — that is, the intentional attempt to articulate the key lessons taught by experience.”

It begins with doubt

Reflective practice, or the ability to reflect on one’s action to learn from it, has attracted the attention of several management experts and organizational researchers. For Donald Schon, (late) professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an exponent of reflective practice, professional growth really begins when a person starts to view things with a critical lens, by doubting his or her actions.

His 1983 book The Reflective Practitioner suggests two ways of learning: reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. The former involves thinking about the incident while it can still benefit that situation, rather than on how you would do things differently in the future. It’s about analyzing behavior as it occurs.

Reflection-on-action involves thinking back on what you have done, to apply that learning in future. Here’s how you can practice it:

  1. Choose an incident that you feel wasn’t resolved or are dissatisfied about.
  2. Think of how the situation was before and after you intervened. If your experience was positive, write down what made the situation effective. If it was an unhappy one, note what action you took, and what action you would have instead preferred to take.
  3. Analyze the thinking process you used to bridge the gap between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ situations. What were you thinking? What else should you have considered?
  4. Summarize the situation. What did you learn and what would you do differently in future?

If such practice seems time consuming, then try these simple suggestions David Somerville and June Keeling offer to make reflection a part of your daily life. Seek feedback on your work from seniors and colleagues. Ask yourself, “What have I learnt today?” and ask others, “What have you learnt today?” Keep a journal to record your thoughts, feelings, and future plans. Look for emerging patterns. And plan changes in behavior based on the patterns you identified.

What will you start with, today?

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