Personal Reflection-increasing understanding by making space

The need to have time to reflect is critical to solidify learning theories for students and professionals alike. By acknowledging the space between what we read or hear and what we already know we are able to create links between the two. It is through these associations that new ideas and perspectives are born.

Making time

When I headed back to school to complete my MBA in 2012 I had an instructor (Kim Gunning-Mooney)  recommend we focus on taking the time to reflect. She explained what I think was some version of my description above (honestly I was mentally and physically exhausted for most of MBA so I can’t guarantee that I am totally accurate here, but she deserves credit), and rationalized that we would never imagine what this space could do for the development of our ideas.

Honestly, I thought it was crap. What would writing down my thoughts about what I had read, seen, or heard do for my ability to write an assignment or to do my job?


We often don’t realise how our brains create connections, but in many cases it is when we aren’t studying a topic that we begin to understand it. Have you ever had that moment in the shower or driving to work when everything suddenly makes sense?

That is the power of space to reflect.

Creating connections

I spend a lot of my professional time telling stories to clients and partners. Customising the story to each individual is critical to making it relevant to them and this is where I discovered how reflection helps us make connections.

Many of the early years of my career were spent in the home improvement industry. This causes me to tell a lot of stories about how computer software/employee engagement /management/ marketing/leadership is like the plumbing in your home.

Stay with me here….

You often don’t take the time to think about your plumbing or FILL IN THE BLANK business challenge until it is broken and find yourself in a hurry to get it fixed before you are covered in poop. In a really bad circumstance, it is being covered in poop that tells you the problem exists in the first place.

The importance of the analogy (or any analogy really) is the fact that people can suddenly see the connection between two ideas and just how urgent or serious the challenge they are facing has become.

Our ability as experts to connect the dots matters more than the dots themselves

By walking away from a challenge, literally or figuratively we are able to encourage our brains to connect these new concepts with the information that we have already internalised.

Build compelling arguments

I used to follow my gut on everything. Gut instinct is a powerful thing, to be sure, but honestly it is meaningless when you are pitching a multi-million dollar venture to the board for sign off. You need to have evidence (shown through the connections) in order to make a point.

You: “Hey board of experts I just know that this is a good idea so can I have some cash, please?”

Them: “Yeah, nah bro.”

But when we have some evidence (I consider all ideas evidence to create a compelling argument), and then we combine it with gut instinct and past experiences we are able to make connections that create a compelling and successful business case in many situations.

You: “Hi board of experts we have a challenge and it can be met by combining this times that. We believe it will work because of this idea X connection = result and this idea X connection = result.”

Them: “Well of course! Here are your millions of dollars”

Yes, this may be a bit of a simplified circumstance, but the likelihood of creating those connections is infinitely higher when take the time to reflect and internalise new information. A few steps that work for me are below, but feel free to reflect in whatever way you find effective.

  1. Write down what the content told you in your own words:
    1. Create a summary of what you read so that a fifth grader can understand it.
    2. Journal about the items you are reading. When you start telling the story you connect items without thinking about it.
    3. If you can’t summarise it yet, that’s ok move to step 2
  2. Brainstorm around the topic:
    1. Use a mind map or fishbone diagram to list concepts and create connections between them. The lines are the part that matters most
    2. Use a word blurb to see what concepts repeat most in the article. Tools like Wordle are awesome for this.
    3. Use your favourite method of brainstorming, the method is not as important as taking the time to do it
  3. Walk away
    1. Go for a run, take your kids to the park, binge watch some OITNB, read a trashy novel, it doesn’t matter what it is just get away from the work for a few minutes/hours/days as your timeline allows and let your brain do its thing.

What’s in it for you?

This is the age-old question when we put a task in front of someone. Why would you give up something you value (time, space, money) in exchange for this thing?

Reflecting makes connections faster than reading or listening to lectures alone. It helps us to find ways to internalise the idea and merge it with our personal expertise to make it valid and relevant. AND even if you don’t get anything special from it at that moment, we are raising our likelihood for shower Ah ha! moments exponentially just by trying something new.



Reflection is the most important part of the learning process

Mind Tools Brainstorming

The Optimized Line Up

Line ups are a part of life.  There is always going to be a situation where you can’t just breeze in and have your needs immediately taken care of.

I hate waiting in lines.  I wait to get on elevators, check into hotels, go through customs, to be seated at a table in a restaurant, to go to the bathroom and so many more occasions I can’t even count.

If I am alone this is usually a dead time.  A time I mindlessly surf on my phone or focus on not making eye contact with those also waiting in line with me.  On a really productive day I may be listening to an ebook so I might be learning something while I wait, but since my attention is only partially on the content, it isn’t a fully valuable spend of my precious minutes.

For the last few years I have been going out of my way to avoid line ups.  I have changed a number of my patterns to eek out more precious minutes in my day that may otherwise be wasted.

I rarely take transit-I walk.  No line ups.  I shop online.  No line ups.  I bank online.  No line ups.

Unfortunately, despite my desire to do it, I am usually unsuccessful when it comes to making my own morning coffee.  So this I have accepted will continue to require adding myself to a queue like cattle waiting for slaughter.  To ensure this experience is the best possible one I can have I have chosen to change my path to coffee.

I used to line up at a chain coffee place and wait to be served while checking my watch and tapping my foot impatiently.  Each moment that would tick by, I would be more annoyed at them stealing my time.

Today I now frequent two different LOCAL businesses for morning coffee and sometimes snacks (Jimmy’s Coffee and the Gabardine) depending on where I am in the city.  A lovely perk is the fact that they both cost less for a fun coffee beverage and snack than say… Starbucks (or fill in the blank corporate chain here) but in addition to being cheaper, they also offer a whole other boatload of values.

1)  Local Business=Local Value: I can’t say enough how much I like supporting smaller scale businesses. They hire local people, buy local ingredients, support local commerce….Yay shop local!

2)  They don’t have an employee handbook: Not needing to conform to corporate norms and rules makes for more fun. This is one of my favourite things about small businesses of all types.  These guys can roll their eyes and not risk being fired.  They can guilt you for that blueberry scone addiction you have and chuckle about how it is their baker’s fault that you are going to get chubby because of said addiction.  They can banter about real news items and tell you a story even if there are more people in line.

3) They remember you and don’t have to stress about the little things.  The other day the credit machine wouldn’t work.  I had no cash so they just gave me my coffee and scone….said…”have a nice day on us”.  They know I will be back.  They know losing my $4 order in the till won’t do anything but drive additional business their way.  They didn’t worry about it.  No risk of a regional manager giving them shit for loss.  You would never have that happen at a chain.  They know I will be back and continue to tell people about how great they are.

4)  Things are fresh: Yup that coffee was made for me, I watched the platter of scones come out of the kitchen still warm.  There is nothing, pre-packaged, preserved or manufactured at these places.

5)  Waiting in line doesn’t suck.  The wait is simply because they are busy having clever banter with another person that you are welcome to listen to.  When it is your turn you will be the one on the receiving end of the clever banter and enjoying your line up experience.

6) They don’t look the same: I love that when I walk through the doors of a small business I can feel their vibe coming through in the surroundings.  It is a representation of what they want you to feel when you walk in the door.  Let’s be honest… a McDonalds in Europe looks the same as the one in the mall… and while seeing something you are familiar with can make you feel safe, there is something to be said for adventure.

So find some places that you don’t hate being in line.  Shop at those boutiques, eat at those restaurants, enjoy being part of the banter and quit hating your line up experience…Don’t get me wrong.. I will never go back to banking with humans… that is not a line up you can enjoy without a lobotomy.

Time Vacuums

So often I hear my colleagues complain about how little time they have left in a day.  It always occurs to me that maybe they should be more aware of the tasks and deliverables that they commit themselves to (or are committed to by someone else) and manage accordingly.
Lately, I have had some time thieves surrounding me that are stealing my precious task completion time and I feel a little bit less cranky about those people who can’t get their work done.  Maybe it isn’t all their fault.
Inside a traditional organization we have little grasp on the actual use of the tools we have at hand to make our lives easier.  So often I discover people who arrive late at meetings because they can’t sort out their calendars to give themselves meeting reminders.
Often we lose the first five to ten minutes of each meeting to small talk while people arrive late.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally care about your adventures with Junior, Rover, Your Grandma etc, but I care when we are grabbing a coffee or riding the elevator.  I do not care when we are using up the precious minutes that we have as a group to resolve stuff.
The cost of time.
The average meeting I attend has roughly 6-10 people.  Say each of the six people make a conservative $50,000/ annually, that means that each hour of their time is worth ~$30 add benefits and vacation etc. into that mix and let’s call it $50/hour. SO a meeting with 10 people is worth about $500/hour if we start every meeting 10 minutes late we are throwing away about $85 talking about taking Rover to the park.  Multiply that by five meetings a week $425, times fifty two weeks a year $22,100.  We are throwing away half a person each year just on my one little team.  Multiply that times an entire department or organization and poof! You have enough staff to complete every initiative with time left over.  Just by being on time and ready to go.