This reflection will explore my experiences throughout the course and draw insight from the overlaps in theory and reality in order to derive actionable lessons that will guide my thinking and behavior in the future.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” -‐ Abraham Lincoln. If there were ever a quote to embody the theme of this course, this would be it. Learning is vital to a prosperous future, but even more important is learning how to learn.
That ‘how’ is Abrahams sharp axe. Generally speaking, our entire formal education system in focused on cutting down more and more trees, or learning ‘things’, while neglecting to teach students how to improve at drawing insights and lessons from their experiences. Considering that “most people don’t know how to learn”, there is a fundamental flaw in our upbringing, one that this course looks to correct (Argyris, 1991). I always considered myself a ‘good learner’, not because I’m particularly intelligent, but because I can put in more hours than others, which is something that I believed would give me an edge in the long run. However, as I look back on my strategy to success prior to this paper, I didn’t know how blunt my axe was, my concern was simply about gaining knowledge; I was too busy cutting down trees to realize that I didn’t know how to learn. Despite societies preaching around the importance of goals, we must first develop the ability to reflect on our experiences in order to stay on the right path toward our goals, and drawing insights and solutions to prevent straying from our path in the future (Griffin, 2014, July 25). Without this capacity to reflect we remain unable to generate creative solutions to complex and ambiguous problems, which are essential in our life-‐long need for self-‐directed learning.
Throughout the Mikes Bikes journey I encountered many hurdles, however thanks to insights gained through our compulsory reflective journal entries, I also managed to dodge quite a few as well. In doing so, as I progressed through the course, I worked to master this skill of reflection. Many people have said, “the best investment you can make is an investment in yourself “(Cardone, 2011). This statement is not one about money, but it is about your ability to increasing your own effectiveness. As I continually practiced reflecting on my experiences, despite the temporary discomfort, I realize that the exercise itself is too expensive not to do, and like anything, it gets easier with practice (Griffin, 2014, September 19). Through deliberate and purposeful reevaluation, I was able to unlock new areas of opportunity and find solutions to issues I did even realize were an issue, such as solving the problem of competition with massive margined and low prime cost bikes. By choosing to avoid the mental chore of reflecting and instead taking the less difficult route of single loop thinking, we risk falling into a self-‐reinforcing habit of non-‐action and you risk regretting where you end up (Christensen, 2010; Griffin, 2014, October 10). Understanding that managing internal complexity becomes easier with time is the first step to solidifying the habit of reflection to move from single to double loop learning (Christensen, 2010; Griffin, 2014, October 10). As much as we wanted mastery in an instant, and despite all of the theory we know like the back of our hand, we will fail to succeed at reflection unless we practice. It is clear now that practice solidifies your comprehension into understanding and your ability to practically execute on concepts of theory. From my experiences within the simulation I now acknowledge that there is no substitute for falling over, understanding where your knowledge is lacking, and reflect on where your can improve. In this was I learnt the importance of developing the habit of reflection, and the danger of not, drawing insights about my ability along the way. As we progressed, I realized the fact that my lack of mastery of the simulation was becoming increasingly relevant. As our self-‐confidence remained fueled by a team born out of its competitive nature, I acknowledged that we had found the fine line between ignorance and confidence –ignorance that can be seen as I talked about knowing how to win in the very early stages of the game (Griffin, 2014, August 14). By using reflection to uncover flaws in my reasoning such as these, I was able to more accurately target the previously hidden issues in the earlier stages of the simulation.
At the beginning of the project and up until now I had operated largely through single-‐loop learning. Within the simulation I began by measuring success in terms of SHV, with my self-‐ satisfaction remaining directly linked to my ability to outperform the others in the class. Until this point in my life I had been completely relying on my subconscious ability to draw insight from my experiences and make adjustments to my daily actions. I rarely took the time to actively reflect on my experiences, instead opting to occasionally stumble across insights (Griffin, 2014, July 25). In this way, by only reaching the first two stages of Kolbs (1976) experiential learning model, concrete experience then observation and reflection, I was failing to fully exploit the improvements that exhaustive reflection could offer. Similar to sitting in a lecture but not taking notes or revising the material, I was going through my life trying to simply absorb information. When attempting to learn about business as I read books outside of the curriculum, I may have understood information on a surface level after one exposure, but without further revision and evaluation, when an opportunity comes to apply that knowledge, it’s unlikely that the correct solution will be top of mind. I am aware now that it is not until we engage in Kolb’s (1976) third and forth steps of creating meaning by drawing abstract concepts and generalizations, then testing the validity of those assumptions within our own experiences, that we can say we have learnt something (Daudelin, 1996). In this way I realize that operating under an assumption that “you don’t know what you don’t know” is a healthy habit to maintain, because until you find the gaps in your ability, you can’t hope to make targeted efforts to fill them. Until this point in my I have been drifting. In doing do I have failed to fully exploit experiential learning by not attempting to apply my knowledge in a critical and testing way.
As someone who prides myself on being a very calculated decision maker, I try to employ rational decision making everywhere I can. By combining with my ‘work-‐harder’ approach to success and a love of understanding systems, I was set to thrive within a simulated learning environment. With this, I am inherently competitive to say the least, so after learning that a SHV of “well over $100 [was] attainable”, the standard had been set (Griffin, 2014, August 1). Having plans to found and build companies for a career, my self-‐confidence in my ability to succeed in my career was inextricably linked to my success within the simulation (Griffin, 2014, August 1). For me this was a career simulation that I wasn’t about loose (Griffin, 2014, August 1). The very thought of failing a direct indicator of my future success was sickening. So naturally, as with anything that you tie to your sense of identity to, my perceived fear of failure effectively quadrupled (Argyris, 1991). Despite this, in hindsight I realize that my fear of failure was actually an inhibitor to my success. Not in terms of quantitative results (we won) but in the development of my capacity to reflect. The red herring of winning left me ignorant to the major aim of the exercise. In my drive to win I had become detracted from improving my process of learning (Griffin, 2014, August 29). Argyris’s (1991) talked about ‘smart’ individuals being blind to opportunities to learn from their experiences. Due to their high number of previous successes, and cultures which encourage (or socially enforce) excellence (at all times), failure is left as non-‐ option (Griffin, 2014, September 19; Argyris, 1991). This definition is key to explaining the trap I had I fell into. Through my focus and inability to see the situation from a wider context. In rollovers subsequent to the practice simulation, I failed to challenge my core assumptions (cementing previous methods of success as law) as I was blinded to improvement by my previous successes. So although my success was the reason for my lack of improvement, the source was my inability to engage in double loop learning that continually redesigns the underlying assumptions of ours action.
Throughout the simulation my team and myself were hit with a number of failures. Despite winning the class simulation, after learning past teams had reached a SHV of $500, I was struck with a sense of underwhelming success. Finding out that you’re not as good as you think you are is always hard to chew, but it’s necessary medicine. As we progressed we continued to be blinded by our past successes (however to a lessening extent), and despite our confidence, we consistently over estimated our own ability. Although it took me time to reign in my extraverted optimism, this was a team failure that I accept as my responsibility (Griffin, 2014, August 8). This over confidence can be seen early on as I talked about a “once exciting game eroding into drudgery”, where I begin to (falsely) assume mastery of the simulation (Griffin, 2014, August 8). I realized now that to take inventory of yourself and to understand your capabilities intimately will help when creating realistic self-‐expectations in the future. In this was I now understand that the ability to meaningfully reflect on your strengths and weaknesses is a prerequisite for long-‐term success –without it you are doomed to repeat your past failures (Griffin, 2014, August 29). These all to regular reality checks (of our failures) were the evidence and fuel we needed to reevaluate our teams working assumptions, and as a result, everyone of our major failures were followed by increasingly large successes (Griffin, 2014, August 29). Once we identified the trap of being “blinded by our successes” we concluded the need to actively work in correcting the issue (Griffin, 2014, August 29).
Despite thriving on creating new systems and structures both our team and my own (flawed) system of designing my actions fitted perfectly into Argyris’ (1991) doom-‐loop: Attempting to manage all directly controllable factors; maximizing ‘‘winning’’ and minimize ‘‘losing’’ (seeing the simulation as an equation not a business), suppressing negative feelings (avoiding the temporary discomfort of reworking assumptions); and being as rational as possible (relying on my “strength” of calculated decision making). In this way, by discussing problems in the isolated context of a single rollover my team and I created a reactionary system as a closed loop of incremental improvements was formed which was limited by the accuracy of our foundation of central truths (Synnott, 2013; Griffin, 2014, August 1). These assumptions, seeing as I had done the best in our team in the practice simulation, were largely mine. Similarly, when I was working individually, the validity of my core assumptions are never reevaluated and any challenge was simply met with defensive reasoning (Argyris, 1991; Synnott, 2013). However, as our team progressed and once we developed a culture of blunt honesty (courtesy of the storming stage of group projects), members encouraged each other to actively seek to separate interpersonal tension from the issue of solving the problem (Fisher, Ury & Patton, 1987). This was an extremely positive from which we began to regularly challenge and redefine our core heuristics and assumptions in a process of double-‐loop reflection (Griffin, 2014, August 29). By the end of the assignment statements such as “Wait, why did we just agree on that? What things are we just assuming?” increasingly encouraged us to avoid groupthink, emotionally-‐tainted logic and the temptation of relying on what had worked in the past (Griffin, 2014, August 29). In the beginning, in our excitement to grow our company, we regularly overlooked success-‐critical questions (Griffin, 2014, October 10; Greiner, 1972). However in order to progress past that stage in our teams evolution, we were forced to understand that how our decision system had failed because of our previous inability to challenge assumptions (Greiner,1972).
In trying to decode what factors I attribute our success, I looked to understand my underwhelming satisfaction of winning. Was our winning position due to luck, or skill or just hours of effort over and above what other teams put in? It’s hard to convince myself that it isn’t a healthy combination of all of those factors, but the uncertainty is still unnerving (Griffin, 2014, August 29). Simply believing that we were lucky or more skilled than others is falling into a trap of certainty. Not challenging our assumptions is comfortable but as I have pointed out, is anything but safe. To avoid this in a learning situation we can use teams in a way to naturally create conflict which brings to bear any previously invisible core assumptions and therefore (ideally) double-‐loop learning (Synnott, 2013). I believe that this is why good teams aren’t always easy, they create conflict and questioning, meaning we must attempt to simultaneously accept multiple truths, even if they are completely or partially exclusive (Martin, 2007). But by resisting the temptation to think in terms of either-‐or, we can look beyond obvious solutions and towards more creative options that combine the positive elements of seemingly opposing options. Martin (2007) termed this synthesis of multiple truths into a more create solution that embodies aspects of both, integrative thinking. I believe that the reason good teams are so effective is that they are a melting pot of several equally relevant perspectives, something that for an individual (using your opposable mind according to Martin (2007)), is an incredibly valuable (and difficult) skill hone. In a team environment, as we seek to find resolution, creative solutions naturally emerge in an attempt to satisfy the conflicting logic of different team members’ perspectives. My personal ability to think as a team thinks remains cognitively challenging, but it is a skill in which I plan to stay conscious of, and attempt hone. I have learnt that relishing in uncertainty is necessary to create solutions that make the pie bigger. Therefore now, when I negotiate decision tradeoffs I attempt to exercise integrative thinking and actively avoiding both tunnel vision and falling into the trap of simply dividing the pie more democratically (Griffin, 2014, September 19; Griffin, 2014, August 29).
I admit that I underestimated the impact this paper would have on the way I think and approach problems. In exploring the practical difference this course has made to the way I think and ultimately behave, I see now that the whole experience was a piece of the puzzle that I didn’t know I was missing. Firstly, I understand that there is a fundamental difference between knowing a thing and learning it. I believe that relishing in the uncertainty and complexity of making decisions, while acknowledging that “you don’t know what you don’t know”, is (in my refreshed opinion) the logical key to my long-‐term success. My progression from single to double loop thinking has unearthed my need to seek to reshape my underlying assumptions and revisit any tired heuristics by exercising my opposable mind. Having realized my previously limited ability to progress my capacity to learn, due to my inability to reflect as well as my ignorance of its importance, I am now actively applying double loop theory to my job and my personal life. As a continual and dynamic process, reflection like will power remains similar to a muscle –avoid positive action for too long and your will fall into a downward spiral. It is now completely clear to me that “if you don’t have, always, you’ll end up with never” (Cardone, 2011), meaning that habits are self-‐reinforcing and any action that fails reinforce a positive habit is an action to undermine and deteriorate it’s strength. I now seek to identify and banish defensive reasoning from my mental diet and acknowledge the influential power that habit can have on my daily performance, fitness and relationships. Learning not to trust my (single-‐loop) reasoning, “for [my] reasoning is faulty” (Hill, 1937) has been an instrumental lesson and necessary medicine that I do, and will continue to apply as I design my life. With my new affiliation with double-‐loop learning I am extremely confident that tangible evidence of its benefits will emerge in time. For now however, this course has been step in the right direction.
Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching smart people how to learn. Reflections, 4(2), 4-‐15. Cardone, G. (2011). The Ten X Rule. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Christensen, C. M. (2010). How will you measure your life? Harvard Business Review, 88(7/8), 46-‐51.
Fisher, R., Ury, W., & Patton, B. (1987). Getting to Yes. Simon & Schuster Sound Ideas. Greiner, L. E. (1972). Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow. Harvard Business Review, 50(4), 37-‐46.
Griffin, R. (2014, August 1). Self-‐Concept Insights from Mike. [Blog – Journal 2]. Retrieved from: https://wiki.auckland.ac.nz/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=70127151
Griffin, R. (2014, August 14). The Illusive Novelty Factor. [Blog – Journal 4]. Retrieved from: https://wiki.auckland.ac.nz/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=86508248
Griffin, R. (2014, August 29). Just because it worked, doesn't mean it will work. [Blog – Journal 6]. Retrieved from: https://wiki.auckland.ac.nz/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=87200171
Griffin, R. (2014, August 8). Uniting a Team of Leaders. [Blog – Journal 3]. Retrieved from: https://wiki.auckland.ac.nz/display/MGMT300/Uniting+a+team+of+Leaders
Griffin, R. (2014, July 25). Active Reflection as a Life Skill. [Blog – Journal 1]. Retrieved from: https://wiki.auckland.ac.nz/display/MGMT300/Active+Reflection+as+a+Life+Skill
Griffin, R. (2014, October 10). Bringing it All Together With Habit. [Blog – Journal 10]. Retrieved from: https://wiki.auckland.ac.nz/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=88118368
Griffin, R. (2014, September 19). Challenging Assumptions. [Blog – Journal 7]. Retrieved from: https://wiki.auckland.ac.nz/display/MGMT300/Challenging+Assumptions
Hill, N. (1937). Think and Grow Rich. The United States of America: The Ralston Society. Martin, R. (2007). How successful leaders think. Harvard Business Review,85(6), 60.
Synnott, M. (2013). Reflection and double loop learning-‐ The case of HS2. Teaching Public Administration, 31(1).