If self-reflection (or similar internal listening skills; see my last blog post on “Learning How to Learn”) is a key to successful business leadership, then self-reflection is also a key to success for knowledge workers.
- Productivity is improved by technology and by management tools such as the Deming cycle, TQM and KM, but — according to Chris Argyris — the limits or envelope of productivity can be pushed even further by double-loop learning which requires the skill of self-feedback (see blog posts “D17- Single-Loop Learning versus Double-Loop Learning” and “Practice Internal Double-Loop Learning”)
- The “Ultimate Warrior” is the soldier that possesses both technological mastery and self mastery (see blog post “Q10- “Power of the Third Kind” for Political Conflicts”)
- According to learning organization guru Peter Senge, two of the five disciplines in organizational learning are personal mastery and mental models. Both require internal listening skills. Senge and his colleagues had developed tools for explicit group management of tacit individual thinking processes, such as “left-hand column,” “ladder of inference,” systems dynamics diagrams, etc. Tools for dialogue developed by Senge’s student, William Isaacs, similarly require the skill of reflection (see blog post “D19- Debate versus Discussion versus Dialogue”)
- Personal KM is at the foundation of effective organizational KM (see blog post “Can We Manage Knowledge?”) and personal KM requires internal listening (see “Learning how to learn”)
- Unlearning is a difficult skill that depends on awareness of one’s assumptions and mental models. Mankind’s track record in unlearning is dismal: it takes decades for people to unlearn paradigms that no longer work for them (see “Q8- Wanted: Workable Tools for Voluntary Paradigm Shifting”)
What is the first practical step in learning self-reflection? From my experience, the doorway to learning internal listening skills is conscious moment-to-moment control of attention.
Practice it now. As you read these words, your attention is on the computer screen. If a phone rings now, your attention will be diverted to the telephone and to what the caller is saying. After the call, you revert your attention to reading this blog post starting from where you left off.
All of these are externally-focused and externally-driven attention. As much as 99% of our attention at the workplace is external.
Practice being also aware of how your mind is responding to what you are reading now. Is there agreement, or doubt? Does your mind shoot off on something you remember that is related to what you just read? Is your mind now making a silent internal conversation stemming from the ideas expressed here? Are you noticing any discomfort triggered by a word or phrase? Is your interest level moving up or down?
It all starts by your decision to consciously control where you focus your attention. There are times when your mind — without your conscious control or decision — shoots off in a different direction while you are attending, say, a meeting. In each such occasion of absent-mindedness you miss what is being said for several seconds.
The mind — the prime tool and asset of knowledge workers — is often like a poorly-tamed horse that literally gets off-track every now and then. And worse, the horse rider (=we) fails to notice this most of the time! Control of the horse begins with conscious attention: the horse rider must direct his attention on his horse consciously and every moment along the way.
The knowledge worker depends very much on his horse; therefore he must be a constantly alert horse rider.
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Tags: Chris Argyris, control of attention, Deming cycle, double-loop learning, external attention, internal attention, internal listening, knowledge management, knowledge worker, ladder of inference, learning, learning organization, left-hand column, listening, mental model, personal KM, personal knowledge management, Peter Senge, self-feedback, self-reflection, systems dynamics, TQM, unlearning, william isaacs