Reflexivity: Learning to Reflect in-action

Reflexivity: Learning to Reflect in-action

Reflexivity: Learning to Reflect in-action

The time to reflect is now, in-action; not in some despairingly imagined future respite. And, the form of reflection we need in-action is more than just personal introspection, it is a mode of social inquiry.

Reflexivity: Learning to Reflect in-action

The idea of reflecting on our experience is often associated with having the luxury of time to spend in quiet contemplation, looking back and ruminating on what was and what might have been; recollecting the forks in our road and identifying the choices that have shaped our current state of being. It may involve a summing up of achievements and disappointments; a revelation of patterns in our behaviour and emotional dispositions, of ‘confidences exchanged and trusts maintained’ (to use the words of the poet Seamus Heaney). In mythology, reflection is often associated with relaxing beside a body of water: the sea, a river or stream which conveys the ebb and flow of life along with the metaphoric attraction of a mirroring surface covering hidden depths and currents.

Ah, yes a sea change is what I need!

Unfortunately modern life tends to make a myth of such notions of reflection. We find ourselves yearning for the space to collect our thoughts and recalibrate what is central and peripheral in our lives because in reality we are stressed out by the deadlines, options, choices, demands and
commitments of a recursive, 24/7 world of work.

 

Paradoxically, the time to reflect is now, in-action; not in some despairingly imagined future respite. And, the form of reflection we need in-action is more than just personal introspection, it is a mode of social inquiry. A pause from action (a form of inaction) to consider together our experiences in-action.

The more pressure we are under to think fast the more we need to be able to create the space to be able to think about how we are thinking (or not thinking, just reacting). But we won’t create this space until we learn to value it. And in organisational life we won’t learn to value it unless we can
learn to reflect with our colleagues about our collective experience. Such social reflection is called reflexivity. It is about noticing and thinking together about the nature of our involvement in our participation with each other as we strive to collaborate in pursuit of common aims. It is about noticing our avoidance of and resistance to sharing our feelings about our experience of participating and having the courage to present that as data to colleagues.

Reflexivity is the process of making sense together of the connections between past and future, of personal trade-offs and political compromises, persuasions accomplished and views relinquished, values held and practical judgements made in the pursuit of the common good. It reflects the personal as an aspect of the collective. Encouraging reflexivity is a key component of contemporary leadership and developing that leadership capacity is a key component of NIODA’s Master of Leadership and Management in Organisation Dynamics. We all live with the unconscious tension of wanting both to be a part of, and apart from, the groups we need to work with. Learning how to quietly inquire about and manage that tension in-action is a critical skill for leaders today. It takes courage but it is not necessarily heroic. As Henry Mintzberg put it: “Quiet management is about thoughtfulness rooted in experience.”

John NewtonProf John Newton
Founding director of Master (Org. Behav.) Swinburne 1987
& current Chair, Academic Board of Governance, NIODA

7 October 2019

Reflexivity: Learning to Reflect in-action

ps Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn more about reflexivity and learning to reflect in-action? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.

Learning about Economics and Organisational Dynamics

Learning about Economics and Organisational Dynamics

   Learning about Economics and Organisational Dynamics

Economics: the science of the creation and distribution of resources

Organisation Dynamics: the capacity for understanding and influencing the ‘push and pull’ of conscious and unconscious resources in the human endeavor to collaborate on primary work tasks.

Neo-classical economics is often referred to as ‘the dismal science’ because the predictions of professional economists are so often wrong; even now when they are able to make use of supercomputers and crunch more data than ever before through models comprised of many, many variables. The fundamental flaw in this approach to economics is the assumption it makes about human behavior. Namely, that humans will always make rational choices from available options to maximize self-interest; homo economicus.

More recently there has been much interest, and a Nobel prize, in the emerging field of behavioural economics which attempts to explain the predictably irrational ways that humans defy neo-classical economic theory. This field relies greatly on cognitive psychology and neuroscience, tending to focus on our estimation of ‘losses and gains’ in decision choices made in the super market and the stock market. So far it has failed to espouse a consistent, unified theory of behavior because it is limited to ‘set piece’ situations within notions of market behavior and, again, the over-riding assumption of individual self-interest.

Management theory too has suffered from assumptions about human behavior in its attempts to be ‘scientific ‘about its predictions involving performance motivation, leader and follower interactions, spans of control etc. The management science tradition also assumes that human beings are properly rational and ‘good’ management is necessary to ward off irrational deviation from management objectives. We have to search at the margins of management scholarship to find approaches to understanding the behavior of people in groups and organisations that include unconscious, emotional drivers alongside conscious, cognitive functioning. Approaches such as NIODA’s systems psychodynamics tradition embrace the ‘libidinal economy’ of unconscious desires, fears, anxieties and unforbidden pleasures as part and parcel of life and work. All of these inherently human, ‘economic’ elements can shed light on the joys and difficulties of collaboration and contribute creative insight to possible futures. They are the very stuff of emotional data as ‘intelligence’. Sometimes referred to as, ‘what is really going on.’

The libidinal economy is not about prediction and control. It is about the future we strive for together through uncertainty, passion and vulnerability. It privileges the tension between self-interest and common-interests. Or, as Wilfred Bion put it, we reach common sense when we can get all our senses to work in common. Understanding and managing the libidinal economy requires learning-by-acquaintance. Another term for experiential learning. You have to be in it and learn to regulate your own desire to win it. Along with everyone else you work with.

John NewtonDr John Newton PhD
Chair, Academic Board of Governance NIODA
Learning about Economics and Organisational Dynamics

November 2018

Experiential Learning: ‘Market’ value or real value?

Experiential Learning: ‘Market’ value or real value?

Experiential Learning: ‘Market’ value or real value?

The Australian literary figure Clive James, who coined the term Cultural Amnesia, argues that we can forget that some things don’t have a market value, they only have value. And the current Banking Royal Commission is surely resurrecting this crucial point.

I argue that ‘experiential learning’ or learning-in-experience is an educational process that has a value beyond any price the market might put on it.

The educational tradition from which NIODA has evolved is that of experiential learning or, to put it more directly, encouraging students and staff to learn from their own experience, both in the classroom and the workplace, so they may become wiser and more balanced in the accountable exercise of their power and authority.

The current Master program began to take shape in the Graduate Diploma of Organisation Behaviour at Swinburne in 1980 where it grew into the first Master degree offered by the School of Management (1988), then extended into a Professional Doctorate (1996). A shift in SUT’s priorities led to a shift in location to RMIT in 2002 and then to the independent, not-for-profit NIODA (2010). Along the way, the program name changed to Organisation Dynamics to reflect the increasing complexity of workplaces (and their globalising, networked environments) and the unconscious dynamics that are triggered in individuals and groups by increased uncertainty.

We have all changed but we haven’t changed as much as we haven’t changed. If you get my drift.

The difficulty of learning from experience has not changed because human beings will always find it very hard to learn in public and deal with the self-generated feelings of shame and self-judgment at not getting things right. What has changed is the diminished provision of emotional security in organisations that ‘manage by metrics’ and increasingly regard human resources as disposable. This makes it even harder to admit a mistake, even to yourself, and get helpful feedback. We are flooded with information and decision timelines but none of it educates our gut feel nor helps us make critical judgement calls. The ‘market’ prompts us to oscillate regressively between paranoid threats and boundless opportunity rather than struggling purposively with our customers and clients to discover what is actually in their best interests.

The content of the NIODA program continually changes to draw from new theory and techniques but the support for participant learning remains a constant. This support includes discovering the potency of well managed boundaries (time, task, territory and authority) to enable deep learning about how to connect thoughts, feelings and actions in a productive and collaborative manner. It requires both personal courage and staff who en-courage in order to be able to spot the defensive routines in oneself and in the groups we seek to lead.

The outcome is a graduate who can fully take up their role and offer on-task leadership, not just speak the management jargon. Or as Prof Henry Minztberg put it, a person who is an actual manager not just a qualified MBA.

John NewtonDr John Newton
Founding director of Master (Org. Behav.) Swinburne 1987
& current Chair, Academic Board of Governance, NIODA

27 June 2018

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