In his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, Author Peter Senge talks about the importance of developing core learning capabilities, one of which is reflective conversation.  Skills of reflection concern slowing down our thinking processes so that we can become more aware of how we form mental models and the way they influence our actions.

He goes on to say that mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.  Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effects they have on our behavior.  For example, we may notice that a co-worker dresses elegantly, and say to ourselves, “She’s a country club person.”  About someone who dresses shabbily, we may feel, “He doesn’t care about what others think.”  Mental models about what can or cannot be done in different management settings are no less deeply entrenched.  Many insights into new markets or outmoded organizational practices fail to get put into practice because they conflict with powerful, tacit mental models.

Reflection can be used as a self-development tool.  In order to be able to undertake this effectively you should reflect on your own abilities and experiences.  You need to identify any weaknesses that you need to correct and strengths that you need to maximize.  This could include:

·         Facing up to distinctions between espoused theories (what we say) and theories-in-use (the implied theory in what we do)

·         Recognizing “leaps of abstraction” (noticing our jumps from observation to generalization)

·         Balancing inquiry and advocacy (skills for effective collaborative learning)

In order to benefit from this reflection, you need to act on your finding.  In the Reflect step of the Managing Uncertainty System, we can use this skill to slow down our thinking and become more aware of the internal and external environment in which our organization seeks to achieve its objectives.  In doing so, we can make better decisions based upon a realistic view of our current situation.

Questions for executives

1.      How does your organization encourage reflective conversation?

2.      How could you improve as a learning organization?


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