The Power of Reflection

We can only live our lives looking forwards and understand them looking backwards.

The faster the pace of life and change, the more we pay attention to where we are going, without necessarily reflecting on why.

Every complex system has a reflective capability, a feedback loop.

For us, our bodies have the parasympathetic system to balance the fight/flight dominated sympathetic system. It’s there to protect and inform us.

We however have an (almost) unique appetite for overriding it.

The work of B.F. Skinner shaped a generation. We have designed behaviourist reward systems – bonuses, appraisals, SMART goals etc. – that really work, although their real power is not long term performance, it is short term rewards seeking or punishment avoidance.

We can reward people to death. We can create systems so powerful, so addictive, that both animals and people can be induced to work till they drop dead.

The Japanese even have a word for it. Karoshi. The main cause is heart attack due to starvation diet and stress. no balance and no feedback (although I guess death is an extreme form of feedback)

Organisations are no different. We are seeing organisations around us suffering from Karoshi every day. Death through overwork and resource starvation brought on by lack of reflection.

Taking time out to reflect, to notice, to listen to our own, and our organisations bodies is not inefficient. It is the stuff of development, contribution and survival.

We all have a choice of two futures. The one we’re living that is designed for us by others, or the one we choose for ourselves.

The difference between the two is reflection.

Stepping Stones

I’ve just had the pleasure of working with an extraordinary group of people considering the bigger pictures we are all part of. Four days away in a glorious quiet setting, in the countryside.

I always find it astonishing how noisy silence can be. The questions it asks of you, The things it brings into focus. The areas we notice that we just don’t understand, and happy for our ignorance to be a trigger.

I felt humbled and inspired by those in the group – some of whom had jobs of huge potential impact for our safety, sanity and survival, others in roles that didn’t really demand of them what they could offer. All of us giving space for clarity to lend a hand to our efforts.

What struck me was the difference between people’s goals and their vision. The former often very clear, the latter constantly emerging. A little like stepping stones in the mist – the ones near to us giving us clear but limited choices, our the vision for the longer term clearly affected and shaped by the ones we choose, and the destination always an aspiration.

Physics tells us that without noise we cannot detect signal. What we need are the right filters. Some of those are frameworks. I have a huge collection, from Marcus Aurelius to John Boyd, all of which help, none of which provide the answer.

The answer always emerges from the quiet, when that part of us that is always there can make its voice heard. our genius, our muse, our soul. Take your pick.

It’s never been more important. The noise factories are in full production, shouting in our ears and assailing our attention with a mix of disconcerting messages.

None of them are right for us.

Our truth, our next stepping stones are known only to us. They will take us where we need to be, if only we take the time to look for them.