Entrepreneur V Academic

Mini Reflection.

My biggest self learning point so far, is that I really love writing and i love theory. I absolutely love studying entrepreneurship.

Consequently, I would love to pursue at some point, a career as an academic. An academic within the area of business, entrepreneurship and involving people. Potentially sociology based. I really have enjoyed learning about all the theories of learning, entrepreneurship and team interaction. I could bury my head in books all day and write essays continously.

Comfortable within my own academic introversion.

My love of learning, i’ve realised stems from my love of thinking. Moreover, it is almost impossible to separate learning from thinking, one and the same (Marton and Ramsden 1998).

Marton and Ramsden. (1998) What Does it take to improve learning?, In Improving learning: New perspectives, ed P Ramsden, London: Kogan page.

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New year’s resolutions – learning

As it is nearly the beginning of a new year, 2014, it seems timely to make some new year’s resolutions. I’m not a big believer in them essentially as I think they often set one up for failure, but as 2013 was such a transitional and challenging year, coming out of a very difficult 2012, it seems fitting to not only draw a line under it, in terms of personal challenges, but also new academic and learning challenges. Consequently, I have many habits and inefficient learning practices that I know I’m aware of but I have accepted up until now, as part of my process. But if my 2014 year, is truly going to be a year of change, it is important to not let self-awareness automatically become self-acceptance without good reason.

Learning Resolutions

  • I will stop letting my love of research, detail and planning get in the way of action – I’ve noticed that I allow myself to procrastinate under the guise of planning and perfectionism. I am only quick to act, when I have the support and push of a team as a motivator or when I have crisis. Consequently, I will use my team, a group of activists, as a driving force and stop procrastinating.
  • I will be more tactical about my learning with an awareness of when deep learning and surface learning is appropriate – I find everything interesting and I love furthering my knowledge. Sometimes, this is at the expense of whether it is relevant or not. Consequently, when I come to the point of writing an essay or compiling a report, I find I have a silly amount of information and wading through it, takes as long as the actual researching did. I need to be more restrained when researching so as to learn more effectively in order to stop bombarding myself and my team with knowledge.
  • I will take proper time off and do productive things – I’m a real workaholic, between my University and working 20hours a week running events. Consequently, the only real time I take off is when I am either ill or when I’m hung-over. Therefore, I never feel that I have a proper break away from thinking, doing other things I enjoy and this is to the detriment of my learning. Sometimes I have periods when I can’t concentrate but I force myself to sit and work. I also work for extended periods without having breaks, which is equally as unproductive. I want to start running again and to do things I enjoy outside of education and working, which I feel with restore the work life balance I am currently missing.
  • I will stop being distracted by distractions – When I reflect on my working practices through-out the day, I often conclude that what I’ve done in 8hours, I could have done in 5hours. This is usually because I have Facebook on in the background, I answer work/University emails and I text. Consequently, I lose little chunks of time, end up distracted and take a while to get back into what I was thinking about. I need to be really strict with my Facebook usage, take proper breaks away from the computer in which I can check my phone.
  • I will stop writing unrealistic, never ending lists – innovate more– I often set myself unrealistic goals and amounts of work to complete in the week and I feel constantly on the back foot. I not only overwhelm myself but overwhelm others in my team, by listing what we need to achieve. I challenge myself to not constrain myself with lists and plans, but to sit and innovate and discover and try the unexpected.

Team learning contract v team culture in business

Stating

The development of our new team learning contract symbolically represented the concrete beginnings of our new team. It was an opportunity to reflect on the old, decide where our new group wanted to go and an opportunity to consider strategically in the short term, what exactly we need to learn as a team and where our learning gaps are. Drafting a team learning contract provided us with the opportunity to learn and to consider our business learning needs; a call to learning action and a new beginning. However, what could have been a positive process was intensely difficult.

As a team we really fought against a process that forced us to sit down and plan, considering deeper learning needs of our team and pin pointing them. There was a significant lack of motivation surrounding completing it and many voiced their concerns of it being too restrictive. As a collective, we fought against thinking about the things we might need to learn, preferring to just get out there and doing it. There were significant feelings of frustration and demotivation surrounding this activity.

Whilst the process was very slow, it forced us to strategically consider ways of how we could tackle the low motivation and to ensure that this painful process, really did add learning value in our team.  The contract our team submitted was something that everyone agreed on, contributed to and saw value in for our business. We made our contract a mixture of group learning objectives that were directly focused on starting up our business and several individual goals that the team would buy into sharing out the skill sets within the team and spreading out the learning within the team alongside learning from others in the team. However, after the team contract completion, there was disengagement within the group regarding the contract’s implementation. The old lack of motivation appeared and by some members, it was disregarded.  This is suggestive that the creation of a learning contract within a team alone is not enough to absorb the value from it and that something else must support it, in order to encourage execution.

Deconstruction

A learning contract is a leading learning tool that provides direction and offers a “flexible, individualised programme of learning (Gower 1998:1).” The learning contract undeniably has potential as a tool to plan learning, but when motivation to complete one is low and the focus is entirely on its completion, instead of its value, does it serve a purpose for our team? We were introduced to a structured template, in which we had to structure our future learning and objectives. The different elements of self-awareness in regards to personal skill sets and team competencies caused an issue in terms of identifying areas we needed to work on. Moreover, the level of imposition on the team and the prescribed, structured nature of it seemed to alienate many within the team. It was uncomfortably forcing the group to sit down as a collective and plan our learning, rather than just getting out there and doing it.

Our first draft was basic, completed quickly and was incredibly superficial. Moreover, it was completely action orientated, based on quick, tangible results above contemplating any learning to go behind them. Our contract also didn’t consider what the impact of completing the objectives would mean within the team and how we could use our learning strategically to strengthen the team. Our action orientation, within a group strongly led by activists, was not a surprise and is representative of our current team culture. Reflecting on this action orientation approach within the group, this was clearly an underlying issue; as a team, we had an action focused, quick results culture. Considering an intangible like learning in a long term sense, did not fit into our culture. Our culture is to complete the tasks and perform well, any learning is incidental and rarely reflected on as a group.

The beginning of our second draft, began with two questions; 1. What do we need/want to do? 2. What do we need to learn in order to fulfil those objectives? We selected two objectives that we wanted to complete as a collective, which would have direct impact onto our business planning, bringing about tangible benefits alongside learning. Secondly, we picked out areas that individuals would like to work on for the benefit of the team, e.g. pitching and how this learning would be brought back into the team and utilised effectively. Our overall goal was to build a stronger team, one that learned from each other and built learning into enhancing our performances.

Conversely, even this team contract remained very action orientated, but it was a compromise within our current culture. In order to get any engagement we had to build in results to complete the task. The learning within our contract, although more a dominant factor than our first draft, was still very much secondary. The lack of motivation concerning imbedding learning into our teams and our process towards the learning contract, evidenced how we viewed the learning process within our team and our team culture Consequently, whilst we have completed our team contract, it remains action orientated and the planned learning elements make implementation difficult.

Theorising

A learning contract can only be effective where the learner plays a “leading role” in its development; as such it is an active process (Gower 1998:5). Whilst in theory, it promotes independent learning and an increase in group skill awareness, its functionality, practicality and value lies within the attitude and commitment of the learners to the process and the team’s culture in which it exists (Gower 1998). Each individual involved needs to not only see the team value but the individual relevance to their learning (Knowles 1986). Moreover, as a team learning contract consists of different people, it needs to embody different learning styles, action and paces of learning; it should be a challenge to the team and the individual (Knowles 1986).

Furthermore, a learning contract is only as viable as the context in which it is expected to function within. An action orientated organisation, unaware of its learning needs, will be unable to see the value of a learning contract, as they are unaware of the need to learn and planning learning distracts from the action orientation and feels like stagnating (Gower 1998). Consequently, the contract in isolation is ineffective, it is about imbedding the process of learning into the team, embracing all the mediums our team members learn by (Pedler et al). As such the contract alone should only direct learning to reach specific objectives, there must be a willingness to learn and to try, in the first place; the awareness of the need to improve must exist (Hills 2001). Therefore, creating a learning team culture is potentially crucial to imbed learning within the team and encourage it as an active process.

Team culture is defined as cultivated and developed “norms” within a team and can be utilised as a competitive advantage against competitors (Hills 2001). A learning team culture is “a wish to increase independence rather than a desire to please” and one that “values being willing more than being capable” (Hills 2001:55). It signifies a desire for improvement and a learning contract sets out the means in which such improvement can take place (Gower 1998). Moreover, a learning team in the long term is one that has higher performance levels and remains in a state of constant evolution (Gower 1998).

Therefore our success in the long term is reliant on exploring and developing a team learning culture in which a learning contract could add value within our team, moving away from our action orientation and creating a learning environment. Cottrell (2011) highlights the key aspects of any learning team is one that encourages, collaborates, challenges, co-operates and critically analyses itself. She points to changing the culture into one that learns by doing from its own experience, one that stimulates thinking, accepts that people learn in a variety of ways and one that is internally motivated to learn from within the team.

Regardless of our action orientation, of team culture has developed markedly, changing from what was once a highly procedural team into a conceptual team that values not only what members do within the team but the intangibles they bring as a contribution (Hills 2001), consequently as a team we are capable of progress and change. More than ever, we are willing to explore ideas, learn from our peers and we are increasingly growing in independence. However, as a group we still focus on a power driven culture that seeks results and action, learning has to have an immediate tangible purpose (Hills 2001).

Consequently, our team learning contract exists within a team that currently doesn’t have a team learning culture, a compromise between action and learning; a learning contract alongside a strategic plan of action. This avoids the two problems that Revans (1980) highlights as endangering teams without a learning culture, task fixation and a lack of awareness of team learning needs. By combining the strategic planning process alongside the development of a learning contract, the team is able to construct a plan of what needs to be actively done to complete an objective and the learning contract, enables the team to consider what they need to learn and how they are going to learn it, in order to start implementing the strategic plan.

Within the team contract differing levels of awareness and competencies can be an undermining issue (Gower 1998). Gower (1998:26) highlights a competency awareness model which sees the learner to label their competences as an unconscious competence, conscious competence, conscious incompetence, or unconscious incompetence. Consequently, the team learning element adds an extra dimension, as a supportive factor and learning tool in which, unconscious elements can be identified and exploited as learning opportunities through a feedback process to the benefit of the team and the individual.

Considering current motivation within the team as a collective to change our team culture into a learning one, McGregor’s motivational theory is worth exploring. Potentially as a group, we have moved past the theory X stage and we are no longer looking for someone to prescribe what to do and sometimes we even rebel away from prescription, like with the learning contract; consequently we are no longer motivated by being told what to do (McGregor 1960). But theory Y doesn’t quite apply to us yet, because we’re not self-directed and open in our learning to actively seek out learning opportunities (McGregor 1960). Hence we fall in the middle and tasks that the group isn’t interested there is a lack of motivation within.

Constructing

Consequently, whilst our team learning contract is viable, there is a questionable element about the motivation to follow it through. The team learning contract will only add value as a tool, if we make a conscious effort to imbed learning into our team’s culture and lessen our action orientation; creating a learning culture. As such we need to slow down and reflect on our learning needs, creating a safe environment in which we support each other to grow and make mistakes (Hills 2001). Changing our culture is about changing our results driven mind-set and developing a culture in which our learning contracts don’t impose learning on to us, but help direct our already active learning process.  As such, we must equally take action, to change our attitudes in the team.

Cottrell, S. (2008). The Study Skills Handbook. (3rd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gower, GB. (1998) A Complete Guide to Learning Contracts. Hampshire: Gower Publishing

Hills, H. (2001) Team-Based Learning, Hampshire: Gower Publishing.

Knowles, M. (1986) Principles of Learning : Learning Contracts. San Francisco: Jossey Bass

McGregor, D (1960) The Human Side to Enterprise. USA: McGraw Hill

Pedler et al. (1991) The Learning Company. Maiden Head: McGraw Hill

Revans et al (1980) Action Learning. London: Blonde and Briggs

Corporate Psychopaths, did they cause the financial crisis? – a critical look at Boddy’s 2011 Corporate Psychopath Theory

Boddy article can be retrieved here: http://www.slideshare.net/UnitB166ER/the-corporate-psychopaths-theory-of-the-global-financial-crisis-by-clive-r-boddy

The financial crisis of the last decade remains an area of academic significance. Academics, professionals and the media play the blame game in order to seek out a deeper understanding of why the crisis occurred and exactly who was responsible (Babiak and Hare 2011, Boddy 2011, Ronson 2011). Whilst there have been many theories as to why the crisis occurred, it is universally accepted that a combination of consumer credit lifestyle and irresponsible behaviour by the banks, played a larger part (Ronson 2011). Boddy in his 2011 article ‘the corporate psychopaths theory of the global financial crisis’,  takes this blame game one step further and purports the concept of the corporate psychopath as a factor that not only contributed to the crisis but was entirely responsible. His 2011 article and pre-crisis articles explore the ‘corporate psychopath theory’, linking the notion of the psychopathic personality causing havoc and destruction within the financial sector.

Boddy is not the first to explore and develop this idea, other academics have alluded and touched on this concept far before the financial crisis (Hare 1999), but Boddy is the first one to expound it into a theory (2011). His main line of argument within his article is that due to the nature of the financial service, psychopaths are attracted into the industry and flourish. These “malevolent” beings (2011:256) are consequently able to destroy the organisation from within, due to their lack of morality and tunnel vision pursuit of profit. The key driving factor to this article is that Boddy’s argument and concept is plausible; corporate psychopaths may exist and may have indeed contributed to the crisis. However, his article is fatally flawed due to his questionable reasoning that enables him to get to his conclusion.

Firstly, his view of the financial industry from the past is idealised. He views that managers within the industry worked “selflessly” and entirely for the organisation’s benefit (2011:255), completely disregarding the fact that people are motivated at work for a variety of reasons and there are many motivational theories that advance this; disregarding the self in favour for the organisation is a form of a corporate sacrifice and is unlikely to motivate long term (Ronson 2011). He furthers this point but considering that these “imposters” are responsible for the loss of “nobless oblige, equality and fairness” (2011:257) that preceded the crisis. The reader is left questioning if these core ideals were ever a part of the banking industry, one that is based on maximising and exploiting credit as a consumer product. Furthermore, within such an idealised view of the industry, it is further questionable how such an infiltration of such “evil” people could remain unnoticed and unchallenged. Consequently, the banking industry as fair and ethical, until infected and disrupted by corporate psychopaths (Boddy 2011), is an unlikely starting point.

Secondly, Boddy fails to give the reader a definition of a psychopath within the corporate working place. Instead he takes the established medical view of a psychopath with their characteristics and makes assumptions of how they “could” affect the work place and what may happen. He fails to support his reasoning with a research study within the industry, any identification of psychopaths or specific personality traits; he fails to create a corporate psychopath profile built on evidence. The reader is forced to make the logical conclusion based on their own established perception of what a psychopath is and what the impact could be of such people existing within corporations. This conclusion that a psychopath within a corporation could cause untold told demand is logical but when further explored, the evidence backing the existence of such a being is lacking.  Moreover, any research he does present is either his own, making the study biased or are from “experts” and undisclosed studies, making them unreliable and seemingly biased. Consequently, the reader is left questioning his agenda for pursuing and developing this theory. The end of the article serves to reveal this agenda; he developed this theory before the financial crisis and is seemingly using the crisis as a platform of evidence to back his theory and his concept of the corporate psychopath.

Moreover, he persuades the reader to believe his theory through emotive words which are highly charged. He refers to them as “malevolent, “defective” and “egotistical” (2011:257), but he does not provide evidence to support these broad character traits. Furthermore, he points to the pursuit of an individual’s personal development aims and ability to manipulate to achieve them (Babiak and Hare, 2006) as a being psychopath specific, when in reality these broad traits and abilities are not essentially a sign of mental illness and is misleading. It could be suggested that all successful people manipulate and pursue their own aims, but this doesn’t characterise them as evil.

Consequently, his argument becomes an exploration of different personality types in regards to success. He is exploring why certain people are able to remain unemotionally uninvolved and pursue success to the end. This is a key area of research in terms of why some people are successful and some people are not (Ronson 2011). However, Boddy hones in on the emotionless factor and the ability to act without conscience as the core corporate psychopath trait; the banker’s ability to have lost millions of people’s money and walk away seemingly unaffected. However he fails to acknowledge that the corporate banking industry is built and moulded around high risk activity. Moreover, corporations are multi-layered organisation and in order to invest and work effectively, there has to be an element of dehumanisation. If a banker worried about what his investment might do to a specific family, then he wouldn’t be able to work effectively within the organisation. Consequently, it is this ability to dehumanise and take risks that make them successful bankers which applauded when things go right which they did for many years, so surely when things go wrong, this should be accepted as an inevitable part of the game.

Moreover he fails to consider that these bankers when successful, are hailed as success stories and shining lights. For years, the top executives were untouchable. It hasn’t been until things unravelled and went wrong, that the media and public began to question them and there has been an element of victimisation (Ronson 2011). Consequently, his view is completely unbalanced and his agenda is to blame and prove his theory, not to effectively research the real reasons behind the crisis. Furthermore, he makes the assumption that these people “display several traits” of a psychopath (2011:256), which implicitly communicates to the reader, that they don’t display all the traits of a psychopath and therefore by medical definition, they aren’t a psychopath. Psychopaths are only medically termed a psychopath when they go through official testing and the “psychopath test”, therefore Boddy’s theory can only be speculation until there is an official diagnosis of a corporate one (Ronson 2011).

Conveniently, Boddy’s “Corporate psychopath” theory allows the banking industry to create an invisible scape goat. He points to an undisclosed, unidentified, unnoticed sector of people within the formally “ethical” banking industry. Consequently due to their ability to remain a secret, makes their identification to prove his theory impossible and can only ever be speculative. This theory allows the banking industry, its structure, ethos and make up to be completely absolved of blame; applying his theory the industry is powerless to the infection of the corporate psychopath and their internal destruction.  Therefore, removing responsibility completely from the industry and placing it back onto the individual for their actions, fails to acknowledge the industries inherent ethos, which is accepted as a significant factor within the financial crisis (Ronson 2011). Moreover, it paints an industry that is at the mercy of the individual’s actions and motives, which is very questionable due to its power and the UK’s government’s inability to fully, sanction and control their actions; the banks as corporations are indisputably globally powerful (Ronson 2011).

Thus, Boddy’s article should be approached with an open mind as it does provide a concept that is worthy of consideration and further research. However, until further research takes place it remains a speculative theory based entirely on assumptions and lacks evidence. However, instead of absolving this industry like intended, his theory raises more questions about the ethos of an industry in which a corporate psychopath could flourish and go unnoticed. For a more balanced view with concrete research about the existence of psychopaths in everyday life, one might seek out Jon Ronson’s, “psychopath test”; a conceptually brilliant worthwhile read.

Babiak, P. and R. D. Hare (2011) Snakes in Suits When Psychopaths Go to Work. New York: HarperCollins.

Boddy, C. (2011). The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis. Journal of Business Ethics 102: 255-259

Clarke, J. (2005) Working with Monsters. How to Identify and Protect yourself from the work place psychopath. Sydney: Random House.

Hare, R. (1999). ‘Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the psychopaths among us’, Psychology Today 27 (1), 54-61

Ronson, J. (2011). The Psychopath Test. London: MacMillan

Reflexivity is the new black

Stating

Within business I see the process of reflection as something that is crucial to learning within an enterprise and is something that our business as one unit is embracing. However, this reflective practice is often after the fact and as such can be deemed to a certain extent as dangerous. It can put off deconstructing and answering some important questions affecting your performance until tomorrow, things the team could address today. Through my reading, I have discovered the process of reflexivity, which is something I’d like to explore further and a process I think could be vital to our team.

Deconstruction

Reflexivity is a process which engages an individual (or team) to detect an issue there and then, exploring it and moving forward (Reynolds and Vince 2004). It is very similar to an emergent strategy, as it involves the implementation of strategy, not going in the expected way and reacting to that immediately (Worthington 2005). As such within business, where the external environment changes all the time, it has a crucial role.

Reflection allows an individual to consider a situation after it is over whereas reflexion enables a team or individual, to reflect and react in the moment. As such this is a reflective process, based on adapting to the changing internally and externally environment. It embraces the notion that it isn’t the details of the changes around you that are important, but the way you react to the changes that boosts your chances of success (Covin and Slevin 1997).

Reflexivity in practice was something that we used a great deal in Enactus Newcastle. We came back together at regular points through the week and explored how our strategy and projects were going; we reacted to any difficulties and exploited any emerging opportunities. We did not sit back and wait until the end of the full strategy implementation and then reflect on it. As such, this process is ideally suited to the activists, without our business, the ones who remain in the here and now and drive us forward. Their objectivity and drive to react, is a crucial skill that we need to harness within reflexivity. Members, like myself are more inclined to sit back and wait to see how things unfold over time or to discuss and explore situations further.

Within the work place and in business, over the past couple of years, I’ve allowed myself to be more reflexive. I realised, that you are never restrained or being forced to follow out a plan, no matter what; a detailed strategy is not a personal/organisational contract of action. As such, it “helps no one commercially or emotionally to sustain a situation that makes no sense” (McKean 2011), consequently it enables all those involved to constantly think, “is this actually working?”.  I don’t advocate, constantly chopping and changing strategy on a weekly basis, as it will fracture the business and cause damaging inconsistences (McKean 2011). But the value is within the fact, it helps a business fight fires in a more coherent manner and it makes avoiding the pit falls easier.

Moreover, the value of reflexivity is the immediate engagement with all participants. For the activists within our business, I can see the process of strategic planning, is painful to them; they just want to get out there and do it! But this provides a forum to express concerns or highlight issues in the here and now, instead of having to wait until the end of the process when the team does a “wash up” on a project. Consequently, team members feel listened to and can see short term gains within a long term strategy.

During our sustainability project, reflexivity was a tool that we could have utilised which may have benefited the project. Whilst there was a general understanding that things weren’t going well, we never addressed it in the moment. We didn’t change our strategy or analyse what exactly was happening, hence as a team we kept falling over issues, that felt obvious and completely out of the blue at the same time. When we came together as a team to reflect, a lot of what we were reflecting on was things that could have been solved and explored when they were happening. They weren’t deep rooted issues that needed to be analysed, they were simply practical issues, that if as a team, we’d addressed them, then we may have performed better. As such, utilising reflexivity in future projects and without our business, is something we need to build into our strategic process.

Theorising

I’ve explored several models for reflection. There is one model that stuck out during my wider reading that seems to be an ideal reflexive model. Rolfe (2001) developed a reflective model that based itself on Borton’s (1970) developmental model. Rolfe’s model is very simply, but unlike the other models of reflection, it involves a sense of immediacy and activism, without extensive theorising.  The model is made up of three basic questions, that go in a cycle; what? so what? And what next? As such it involves identifying an issue or situation at the moment, not in the past, then exploring what this means to the individual or business and then constructing a plan forward for change or a considered reaction to the issue.

The value in this model is not just in its simplicity, but in the directive questions that force an activist’s response, to do something rather than a lengthy considered reflective approach. Whilst theorising remains an important aspect, I do think in business, there needs to be a process which is about quick thinking and reactivity. Reflection should be the forum to explore and understand why things have happened in a particular sequence, where as being reflexive should be about tackling an issue and getting on top of it, there and then. Furthermore, within reflection, especially in our teams there is often an element of blame of culture; it is easier to blame a person, rather than to blame the process. Until we gain engage in a reflective process, that is open and honest, without “defensive routines” (Argyris 1991), reflexivity adds real value as due to the immediacy and urgency, emotion to an extent is remain. The process is about changing; achieving the common goal, not just about understanding hence the need to react overrides the blame game.

Construction

Applying this to our team and my individual processes, reflexivity alongside reflection should be built into our team ethos and process. McKean’s (2011) writings, in summary highlight a process for business success:

Success = identifying factor/need for change à reacting/reflexivityàdeveloping strategy and contingencyà implementation alongside reflexivity à outcome à Reflection.

Consequently, this is a process I’d like to see built into our team and is something I will be sharing next week. Whilst reflection will perform a framing tool around a task or business, a crucial factor in the beginning and the end for learning, in contrast, reflexivity will be a process we engage in constantly as a task progresses, enabling a flexibility, reactivity and developing our emergent strategies; something we haven’t been utilising so far as a team.

Optimising Reflective Practice to use within business

Kolb (1984: p26) refers to learning as experiential learning; a process in which ideas are not just static, but in which elements are formed and reformed through experience. Crucial to this learning process is the tool of reflection; the further on my entrepreneurial journey I travel, the more value I see in reflection as a learning process. Consequently, exploring it and learning more about it formed an instrumental, focal part of my individual learning contract and improving the structure of my reflective writing.

Schon (1983: p241-24) describes reflection as “surfacing, criticising, restructuring and testing intuitive understanding of experienced phenomena”. Hammer and Stanton (1997) expand this referring to its importance and considering refusal to reflect undermines a whole organisation. Consequently, reflection is crucial to my business and success as an entrepreneur, especially during this idea generation and product development stage, when the product/service is being developed from feedback. The difficulty with reflection is that it is a discipline, active and self-directed (Knowles 1984). As such, reflection has to become part of the learning process and has to be taken ownership of; it has to be prompted until it becomes second nature.

As I’ve increased my engagement with the reflection process, through-out the course, I’ve adapted my process, building it into an individualised process, that I can utilise because, essentially I created my version. When I began reflecting, I considered it was an introspective process and involved reflecting in isolation. However, the more I’ve used reflection as a tool, I’ve realised that reflection must be used with an awareness of the internal AND the external; social and political considerations (Reynolds and Vince 2004: p4). Furthermore, I utilise reflection as a method of challenging and questioning myself and the team. Processes and practices, I often take for granted. For example, I often lean towards research and strategic planning tasks, and avoid design and pitching. Reflection as a tool has enabled me to become more aware of my strengths and question exactly why I avoid some tasks. As such, reflection is a personal challenge to question and an opportunity to recognise the need to change.

To take this process further and to develop my efficiency and effectiveness within reflective practice, I wanted to research around reflective models to use within my reflective writing. Reynolds and Vince (2004) describe reflection as a process of “deconstruction” as a means of giving order to chaos. Whilst I consider, the deconstruction element is something I do rather well, challenging myself, I think the moving forward from the learning with an element of coherence could do with some work. I need to make sure I focus equally on the process of reconstruction at the end, so the process is exploited to its fullest potential.

I find the structuring of my reflective writing really challenging, as I want freedom in the process and I find any structure, as potentially limiting and restrictive. However, a structure will force me to pin down my thought process, into an end point that reconstructs at the end of a reflection, with product movement forward that I can enact in the future. In line with my learning contract, I’ve been spending time reading around reflection and looking for a process and structure, that works for me in order to really exploit the “ontological perspective” within reflection (Reynolds and Vince 2004: p35).

The first structure I looked at was the Gibbs (1988) learning cycle;

 

   

gibbs

                 

 

Gibbs 1988

This structure is well known and provides a very clear structure in which reflection on an incident can occur. It was this structure that motivated me to look towards finding a structure that suited my writing style. Whilst Gibbs cycle, encourages set stages of reflection through answering prompted questions, I find it is too rigid and I don’t benefit from this process. I think reflection should send you on a learning journey where you are guided through the reflection, which can end up at a point that is unexpected. I prefer this concept, over and above using questions as prompts and segmenting it.

The next structure I looked at was Schon’s (1983) structure, which depicts a “reflective conversation” (Reynolds and Vince 2004: p242). Schon’s (1983) model follows three steps; framing and reframing a problem or situation, deconstructing the situation and reflecting and finally developing a course of action based on the reflection. Whilst, this structure of reflection provides the flexibility within the process I want, it does not structure the middle process sufficiently. Especially, as I struggle with brevity when I begin to analyse. Moreover, applying Cunliffe (2002) definition of reflection, as something giving “order”, I think there needs an element of a structure that gives directed layers to reflection and something to build a reflective routine around, following distinct stages.

Another structure I looked at was John’s (1995) reflective model. It is one that exploits the view that reflection should be under our conscious control and to an extent objective; i.e. removing the emotional bias (Burgoyne 1992). It goes without saying that reflection can be an emotionally directed activity, which is why I often chose to reflect a while after the event, when emotional feelings have been defused. John’s (1995) structure is useful here, as the reflector engages in a process of reflecting initially internally “looking in” and considering the situation from a completely internal basis. The second stage is “looking out” where the reflector analyses what happened around them. The rest of the model involves a lot of questioning, which again seems quite restrictive, but I highlighted the model, as it reminds the reflector that they need to balance their reflection with internal and external considerations. A good reflection should be balanced with both.

The final model of reflection that I settled on, as the one to take forward as the core basis of my own reflective practice, is one that uses Dewey (1933) model which has four stages; collecting data, reflecting on the data, conceptualising and theorising and finally, translating into new actions and behaviours. For my own writing, I have relabelled the sections of the model which will involve, stating the experience/situation, deconstructing and analysing, making sense of it by applying theory and then reconstructing what I’ve learnt into something I can take forward and apply in the future. Furthermore, my model of reflection will also take the internal and external considerations forward from John’s (1995) model during stage two and four, ensuring a balanced reflection. At these two stages, the internal and external is important, as they heavily influence the deconstruction in terms of objective analysis and during reconstruction, learning must have applicability to yourself and the external environment around you.

My model of reflection (based on Dewey 1933 and Johns 1995)

Stage one

Stating

Stage two (external and internal factors)

Deconstruction

Stage three

Theorising

Stage four (external and internal factors)

Reconstruction

 

Consequently, this structure will now be the basis of my reflective writing. It provides enough of Gibbs (1988) structure, to inform and guide my reflective journey but is not too restrictive or based on answering questions. It takes its primary influence from Dewey’s model, but also embraces elements of Schon’s (1983) reflective conversation and Johns (1995) external and internal considerations.

“New economic progress depends more than ever on innovation” Bill Gates

Economic success is more than ever dependent on innovation, adapting, beating the competition and standing out from the crowd (Worthington 2005). Moreover, in our economic climate, the fate of our recovery is not only place in the hands of the consumer but also in the hands of businesses. Entrepreneurs can and will help the recovery, especially in the UK (Worthington 2005).  The ability to create, innovate, revolutionise and develop are not just ideals, they are starting points and the foundations for most business start-ups. It is a crowded market place, so what makes you and your product different? This process, all involves creativity and innovation. As such, it can be assumed that entrepreneurs need to be creative and innovative in order to start their entrepreneurial journey. But what is creativity? How does one become creative and think of a business idea, in everyday life?

The notion of success and especially, the success of an entrepreneur is often treated like a secret and some unidentified formula. It isn’t. Entrepreneurs are ordinary people. They don’t follow a set of stages in order to be successful; it is hard work, luck and an idea. The idea doesn’t have to be mind-blowing or brilliant, there just has to be an unanswered need and a created solution to fulfil it.

A key barrier, to my business journey so far, is the concept that an entrepreneur has to be innovative and creative.  I have often found myself thinking “I can’t start a business because my idea isn’t good enough” or “I’m not really an ideas person”. This partially based on my idealistic view of what an entrepreneur “should” be rather than what they actually are (Burns 2011). My view of someone who is creative was someone who is artistic, has lots of brilliant ideas and makes them into a reality. Someone who literally spends their day tripping over excellent solutions to problems. When I was a child, I really struggled with creativity in the artistic sense. I can’t draw, I’m not musical; I can’t physically create things of beauty, therefore I considered myself uncreative. Consequently, until recently I waited for the idea for a business to come to me; I’ve always felt I’ve had all the business skills to make a successful entrepreneur, but if only I had the idea. Within my early business life, I sat back and watched people thinking “I wish I could have thought of that”. But then I realised, innovation is within everyone’s reach; you just have to try and open your mind to the possibility. Creativity is a challenge you can set for yourself.

As I’ve developed, I’ve realised innovation and creativity in the business sense, spans a range of skills and abilities. Anyone can be creative, including me. When I was a child, my introversion would lead to hours spent inside my own head; considering different possibilities, different scenarios and situations and constantly questioning everything. I was brought up to challenge and to develop my own opinions. As an only child, from an extremely middle class background, I rebelled in order to stand out, be different; I embraced my quirks as my USPs. I became creative in the sense, I saw things differently and I challenged the status quo.

Consequently, I am creative or more correctly, I became creative through increasing my self confidence in my own ideas. I accept I’m not going to have that eureka moment and suddenly feel overwhelmed by divine inspiration; I’m not going to develop a new product. But what I can do is identify problems and gaps in the market; I seek to solve them and fill them.  Like my Father, I seek out effective and efficient processes; I look at services and routines and seek to revolutionise them. I’ve developed this skill, by taking time out of my day to think and to discover. As such any budding entrepreneur should set time aside to be creative and to question, a form of business mediation. Not just to reflect, but to consider the “what if?” Of course, this has involved the creation of a lot of TERRIBLE business ideas. My time spent as a business consultant, working with start-ups and idea incubation, taught me that entrepreneurs often have many terrible ideas, before having a good one. I remember working with one gentleman who wanted to create a Russian vodka importing business and had done a lot of research into it. Speaking to him about his idea and critically looking at, he wasn’t deterred. Weeks later, he came back with the skeleton idea for “stuff 4 unit”, which has been a runaway success. Consequently, innovation isn’t just about getting it right; it is about being open to the creative process and willing to try.

Another aspect of my creativity is my self-confidence in my own ideas. This self-confidence, drives me forward to consider and explore, shaping them up into the best idea possible. Many aspects of entrepreneurship are considered to be genetic traits (Burns 2011), things you are simply born with. But, I couldn’t disagree more. The ability to change and develop into who you want to be is a far more important factor. As a child and an early teen, I was the sort who gave up when things got difficult, I panicked and was unable to systematically deconstruct a problem and I was not confident in my own ideas. Today, the reverse is true. I seek out challenges, I love deconstructing things and I’m very confident in my own ability. My mum always taught me as a late teen, that (aside from her), no-one else was going to be my number fan, so I may as well take that role and champion myself into success. If I don’t believe in myself and my own creative ideas, then why on earth would anyone else? As such, creativity is not a personality trait; it is something that is developed.

A crucial aspect of creativity, is what Clutterbuck (2013), expounds as psychological safety. This is a key element to creativity. As an individual, you must feel safe and comfortable to explore ideas and to innovate, without reproach. This process involves thinking of ridiculous and unworkable ideas, having them deconstructed, but working through the process in order to develop the innovation process. This is even more crucial when working with others and bouncing off their creativity. It is a fine line, between critically looking at their ideas and pulling them unconstructively a part. Within any organisation, my academics and my own business, I want an ethos where every single person feels like they can make a different; they are more than just a cog into the corporate machine. Consequently, I want their ideas and input. But I also want them to respect my ideas too.

Zwilling (2013) in his article puts forward several ideas surrounding entrepreneurship and creativity. He discusses corporation’s perceptions of creativity and how as a business, we often perceive how to innovate, which has led to business incentivising creativity, changing the ethos of their company to foster creativity and that creativity is restricted by resources. As such, innovation is labelled as something that needs to be encouraged, needs to have a certain facilitative factor and that not all people can do.  

Being an entrepreneur, starts with the ability to create and build on ideas. Instead of focusing on the idealise entrepreneur, we should be looking at how to encourage innovation. However, like with any output, creativity and idea generation is different to everyone; it is a skill that can be developed over time. Business idea generation is daydreaming; dreaming and developing a perception of your idealised world, with something you have created in your mind in it (Zwilling 2013). To boost creativity and innovation, we need to promote more of this day dreaming and considering the “what if?”

There will always be people in the world that can take ideas and make them into a reality. But there may not always be new ideas and innovation. To ensure progress, we should not encourage this elitist view, that innovation and entrepreneurship is for the gifted few. Businesses and success start with idea generation, a process that is accessible and open to all. There isn’t a successful formula to developing a good business idea or a method of promoting idea generation, it all comes from self-discipline. For me that starts with my little note book, a quiet space and a pen. The more I’ve opened myself up to the business idea process and believed in my ability, the list of business ideas I’ve thought of has been remarkable. My notebook is full of terrible ideas, with no practical application or any hope of success, but then once every so often, there develops a good idea, with enterprise mileage (Zwilling 2013).