Selfie reflection in an astronaut's visor, Air and Space Museum, 2014 Robin Fay
Selfie Reflection, Astronaut’s visor Air and Space Museum, 2014 Robin Fay

Reflection is such a common concept in management and leadership, yet one that few of us practice regularly. Celebrate the successes! Celebrate the wins! Success builds success! We hear those all of the time.  But how to find time for it and actually do it? Is it really that important?  (and what about the not-successes, or less-successful successes, or even … the failures?)

I’ve done a bit of self-reflecting over my career path, because I often get asked how I do all of the things I do. While Librarianship has been my “house” to put all of my skills and interests in, how they fit together can seem a mystery to people. Bear with me, while I explain how technology and art fit together for me.  I promise it’s relevant to the larger reflection process!

Like many, I struggled in college to find a career that suited me. I love science and I was hooked on technology with the launch of my first handcoded website in 1997. I equally love art and humanities. I started out as a Chemistry major but in the middle of my Junior undergrad year, I switched  to…. English, specifically focusing on Victorian and Gothic Literature (I love Frankenstein, often considered the first science fiction novel) with a minor in Art History. Alas, while I’m one credit shy of an Art History minor, I have about 100 quarter hours “extra” (all science) beyond an undergrad!

So, how did I get from one to the other? Science > Humanities?   Chemistry is based upon organization, structure, logical experimentation and proof of evidence.  If your hypothesis doesn’t work out in experimentation, you analyze what happened. Reflection is part of the process. Chemical equations are also code like (hence, my love of all things web).  Although it may seem chaotic on the outside, when we write or paint, we go through a  process. Some writers frame-out, outline, edit, revise, and/or re-write. Painters may sketch and/or underpaint. Even Jackson Pollack had a process! Even if you can’t see the process – there is a process.

Adjustments (edits) may be made at any point of the process. Occasionally, I’ve struggled with an artistic concept only to see it “fail” (not be realized as my vision) because of technique, material, or in the case of technology, the limitations of a browser. But was it truly a failure? Absolutely not. I learned a tremendous amount in the process (you can see even this through 2 of my instructional design coursework journals: Studio 1 ; Studio 2).

 Failure is a part of innovation and part of learning.

Sometimes, a failure when viewed through a different lens becomes a success (See: 9 Brilliant Inventions Made by Mistake).  Such is the case of the post-it note (a brilliant failure!) Of course, then there is what we often think of as “failures” – a project that might not be worth continuing or even one that failed catastrophically. No one likes to talk about these projects but everyone has them. The more innovative an organization is, the higher the likelihood that there is a string of less-successful projects or even outright failures in the past.  NASA certainly has them (System Failure Case Notes); even Google (The Google Graveyard) and Microsoft have them (16 Products Microsoft Killed Off).

Knowing when to rescale, when to cut losses, when to move resources to other projects, is important.

Perhaps, the technology changed, impacting the project so much that it could not go forward as originally planned or it was the wrong choice, e.g., the software and device will not work together (or at least not without some hacking or Frankensteining, which is quite often, a monstrous result!), it was too early (I’m dealing with this with wearable technology at the moment), or perhaps, competing priorities impacted the project. Reflection will allow you to see all of those factors and here is the important part… use it as a learning experience! Note what worked, note what didn’t (and why). Use it to make future projects successful!

Apollo 17 Lunar Buggy
NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons / Robin Fay
Reflection is a key component to being a success at work and in life. Identifying what is not working, why it is not working, how it is not working, and the impact of changing, is so important to success at work and at home. We often hear “plan the work, work the plan” but part of working the plan is analyzing, reflecting, and adaptation. In the most general sense, this is the heart of Responsive Design – it’s about creating a website or product that is flexible and can adapt to a user’s particular device or environment. We can use those principles in management and even in our daily lives to make our lives better.

The successes are the easier and most fun part of reflection  — but again identify what worked, why, and how. You may be able to capitalize on some of that process in future projects (and it’s always fun to have donuts or a party to celebrate a milestone!)  Now is the perfect time of the year to grab your project group, staff, whoever you work with, to do a reflection exercise. It can be a daylong event with activities to celebrate the successes or a half hour brainstorm session to set next year’s goals.

Reflection helps

  • goal building and planning
  • set and reorganize priorities – priorities change!
  • reorient progress
  • identify new opportunities
  • drive continuous improvement
  • document progress and achievement
  • cultivate an environment of success and innovation (and yes, that includes failure!)
  • celebrate success
  • facilitate a sense of accomplishment and pride
  • build team cohesion and worker confidence
  • facilitate listening and communication
  • identify issues
  • problemsolve

More resources:

Benefits of Reflection,

Self Reflection is the Key to Being a Good Supervisor

Lessons Learned: A Cost-Effective Approach to Project Management

IT Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Failure



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