The Reflective Knowledge Worker

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.

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.

untamed horse

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2 Responses to “The Reflective Knowledge Worker”

  1. Peter Spence Says:

    Hello Apin,

    As always, thoroughly enjoying reading your insightul comments (also reflecting and hopefully learning from them)!

    Do you consider self reflection and double loop learning is strengthened by our level of social interaction and the external stimulus it brings to our learning process? For example, the circular response (feedback, reflection, exchange, revaluing etc) that occurs through the social process of relating appears to enrich our ability to learn, manage and create new knowledge. If this was so, would the development of group consciousness and relating skills contribute to greater capacity to learn and a more proficient knowledge worker? Would the development of collaborative/relating skills be a challenge for knowledge management in the future? Obviously, your comments on active listening skills (communicating – perhaps ‘learning how to learn from others’) and systems dynamics point to the importance of ‘relating skills’ – I would welcome your thoughts on my inquiry/observations on this topic.

    Kind Regards

  2. apintalisayon Says:

    We do think in similar lines, Peter. The author you recommended earlier – Mary Parker Follet – I believe was exploring the areas you described. I will continue to explore these areas in this L Series.

    I have also noted what you observed: the way self-reflection and social interaction feed on each other. This is intensely experienced by people who are “process partners” to each other. Mutual and transparent self-reflection is not always a pleasant experience between two process partners because their egos (and related issues from childhood) often show up in many different ways – but this offers a great opportunity for self-directed growth and internal listening and learning – an opportunity that is absent in polite and superficial communications.

    And yes, I also think that collaborative learning – from the superficial e-groups to the deeper process partnering – will be a challenge for KM evolution in the future. Chris Argyris, Mary Parker Follet, Peter Senge, Ken Wilber – their thoughts seem to be moving in this direction. I invented the term “indigo learning practices” because naming something helps focus our attention when that something is only just emerging at the periphery of the “attention radar” of a few people.

    Thanks again Peter.

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