Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile.


Last week we started a series of posts we are calling Critical Skills. These are skills that have come up in customer conversations or are part of wider themes we are seeing. The first instalment was on critical thinking (terms that are skills on the TeamFit Platform are in bold italics). This week, we look at reflection or self reflection.

What do you think are the critical skills? Share your thoughts in this short survey.

This has been coming up in a number of contexts. We are in a particularly intense phase of platform development and know that we are soon going to need to pause and look at what we have done. We have also been reading the excellent book by Kelly Palmer and David Blake of Degreed The Expertise Economy. Early in the book they present a model for learning based on a cycle of Knowledge -> Practice -> Feedback -> Reflection. In this post we are interested in the fourth part of the cycle Reflection (in fact the TeamFit platform is the best way to support and capture information about all four phases of learning).

So what skills support reflection? Again, we begin by turning to TeamFit to see what connections we find. There are more than 30,000 skills in the TeamFit skill graph. Reflection is not one of them. Self reflection then? No. Hmm, I have a pretty deep profile on TeamFit and I have never added reflection as a skill. I had better reflect on that.

So I went to Google and made some searches like ‘skills for self reflection’ and ‘improving self reflection.’ These got some hits, but after sifting through several pages of search results without finding anything I found compelling I went to a better source, the people I work with. The first comment made was “reflection is a design skill.” Well, yes. But apparently not one that we think is important enough to call out. Another person said “I was reading about the importance of self reflection on the way in.” Good. So we entered into a conversation on the skills that support reflection.

One of our lead designers, N-Q Chang, commented that reflection is difficult so that many people are more comfortable not talking about it. In Korean there are two translations for reflection when used in this sense.

자기성찰 (Jaghi-sungchal)- In search of oneself, introspection. Underlying sentiment is a change in one’s life.

자기반성 (Jaghi-bansung)- Self regret. The premise is that oneself was/is in the wrong

The two are tangled together and it is the second that especially provokes discomfort.

So perhaps one of the skills that contributes to reflection is some level of self acceptance, not complacency, but a willingness to recognize ones own shortcomings in order to be able to change them. I am not comfortable calling self awareness or self acceptance skills, but they are important personal attributes that shape how we approach the world.

Probing more on why we don’t spend more time in reflection two other themes came up: time (or lack thereof) and pressure to get on to the next thing. This suggests that time management is a skill that contributes to reflection. Another may be the ability to expand and contract one’s temporal bandwidth.

In the words of novelist Thomas Pynchon,

Temporal bandwidth” is the width of your present, your now…. The more you dwell in the past and future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.

Reflection requires us to think about the past, in the present, and apply what we are learning to the future. It is a kind of meta skill, which brings us to Chris Argyris and double loop learning (alas another skill that does not show up in the TeamFit skill graph).

Reflection is what connects feedback to ones mental model and makes it possible for the mental model to change. Note that it is not labelled in the figure on the right. Reflection is the two arrows linking ‘information feedback’ to the ‘mental model.’ Chris Argyris went deep into this in his work (I had the privilege of having him critique some of my own models of organizational learning while at Monitor-Deloitte) and his 1977 article in Harvard Business Review ‘Double Loop Learning in Organizations. is worth careful rereading.

Given this, can we build a skill model for reflection?

Time Management – Reflection requires a time investment. The most common reason for not engaging in reflection is lack of time. So make reflection part of your time management.

Abstraction – Reflection is largely about improving our mental models and connecting them to our decision making and actions. This requires that we take a step out of the immediate acts and look at them in a wider context.

Self Awareness – Reflection is about looking at yourself as honsestly as possible. The two Korean terms that N-Q mentioned, 자기성찰 (Jaghi-sungchal) and 자기반성 (Jaghi-bansung) both include the term ‘self.’

Active Listening – Reflection is helped along by conversations with other people.

Critical Thinking – Critical thinking directed on ones own choices and performance is reflection.

How can we improve on the foundational skill of reflection?

  1. Make time for reflection. Make this a habit, part of your regular work plan. Put it in your schedule.
  2. Keep records of your own decisions and their outcomes, track your performance.
  3. Get feedback from other people. It is often difficult to understand our own actions and performance, other people can
  4. Build context. This is where double-loop learning comes in. One needs to have rich mental models of the world we act in, and that acts on us. Reflection is in part about evolving these models, which are often tacit or implicit.
  5. Expand your temporal bandwidth. By extending the span of time relevant to ones present back into the past and out into the future the practice of reflection becomes more meaningful. The past keeps its significance and future possibilities open up.