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.

Advertisements

Time is money

Most entrepreneurs thrive in chaos; I know I do, especially as I’ve got older. There is something about the urgency and the pressure that gives an excitement. I thrive in my own self-imposed order and organisation, which I can make sense out of the chaos; my pragmatic view of chaos. I like to break the chaos down into pragmatic steps, to move forward, I rarely feel overwhelmed.

How I make sense of the chaos comes simply down to how as an individual I process information, how I reflect on the information and how I utilise the reflection and put it into practice. When I look at a mess or a disaster, I don’t see a hopeless disaster or a lost cause, I see issues, I see the problems, both of which I’m able to organise methodically and most importantly, I see solutions. The key to my learning is my ability to make sense of things and my strategy behind learning. Consequently, it comes as no surprise to learn, that I’m a deep learner. I like to challenge, research, investigate and explore. I’m really active in the learning process and I take forward knowledge to utilise in the future. I can only do this by making sense of what I’ve learnt and what I’m learning in this process. I can’t just take a fact and accept it on face value, I like to understand where it came from, the factors effecting it, how it might change etc.

However, surface learners, although they don’t learn as deeply as I do, they do complete tasks more quickly and often more efficiently. I can get bogged down in researching and end up reading about things that aren’t directly relevant. I always give myself more time within the drafting and research stage of an assignment, than I do the actual writing stage, as I know I have a “process”, I have to go through. This can mean, I end up with A LOT of information and with difficulty knowing what to cut out and which bits are the most important. Seeking to understand something fully often means lengthy time researching without a purpose.

This is also true when I read and listen to information. I cling to details for understanding. When I started to read academic journals, firstly I’d never actually question a lot of what I was reading and I’d take it on board as fact, secondly, I’d read it from cover to cover and almost want to highlight everything as it seemed equally as important. I’ve become much more disciplined at skim reading, seeking out relevance and utilising surface learning strategies. However, this is still an area I’d like to improve on.  This is exactly, how I view my learning strategy, it is a discipline. A compromise between how I prefer to learn and tools that will enable me to be a more effective learner; a more effective entrepreneur.

This is often where the chaos comes in; I work best under deadlines, pressure and often during a crisis, as this stops my natural instinct to research and read around the subject, seeking complete understanding. Under pressure, I’m forced to skim and seek out the important; I research and learn with a purpose. Without the pressure, I struggle to be disciplined, hence I can end up reading lots of articles unable to decide, enough is enough.

Whilst my deeper learning, enables a deeper understanding and wider knowledge bank in the long term and remains a method, I use day to day. I will endeavour to incorporate more surface learning methods, within assignments and focused research. The way I intend to make this into a reality, is by giving time limits when I approach tasks and research. After all time is money and I’m not making any money reading a textbook cover to cover.