Surprises and Reflection — October 15, 2017

Surprises and Reflection

When we accumulate experience, we encounter certain situations again and again, and we develop a repertoire of expectations and images and techniques. We learn what to look for and learn how to respond. We become less subject to surprise, because the situations become familiar and similar to previous cases. And so our practice becomes increasingly tacit, spontaneous and automatic.

But as we accumulate experience and as cases become more repetitive and routine, we may miss opportunities to think about what we are doing, because we operate on autopilot.

Reflection helps us improve our knowledge and practice, because we can…

“…surface and criticize the tacit understandings that have grown up around the repetitive experiences…

…and can make a new sense of the situations of uncertainty or uniquencess which we experience.”

Source: Donald Schon, The Reflective Practitioner.

So what should we reflect on? Perhaps:

  • the norms which underlie a judgment
  • strategies and theories implicit in a pattern of behaviour
  • the feeling for a situation which has led us to adopt a particular course of action
  • on the way we framed the problem to solve
  • on the role we constructed for ourselves to play
  • …and what else?
From each, their own frame — October 14, 2017

From each, their own frame

Your theory decides what you observe.

How we interpret a situation is influenced by our way of thinking – our expertise, ideology, interests, background.

When we encounter a problem and discuss it with others, there is usually consensus that a problem exists, but not on its colour and shape.

Each individual frames the problem from his or her own viewpoint.

How do we reconcile conflicting perspectives?

We learn from the fields of… systems engineering (including many factors in a wider system); empathy (‘I feel what you feel’)… and what others?

“Just this once” — October 13, 2017

“Just this once”

No [more bad habit], except… “just this once”.

A 100% approach is best:

“it’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time.

…if you have justified doing it once, there’s nothing to stop you doing it again.

Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.”

Source: Clayton Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life

“What must prove true”? — October 12, 2017

“What must prove true”?

Between A or B – how to choose?

A question that perhaps dives straight to the heart of the matter is “what must prove true?”

If you choose A, what must prove true for you to be happy that you did not choose B?

What assumptions must prove true for you to be happy with your choice?

Can you swiftly and inexpensively test these assumptions?

Theory of change — October 11, 2017

Theory of change

When we undertake experiments and make resource allocation decisions, we have underlying assumptions.

For example, if we decide to read a book because we want to learn, then we assume that reading will lead to learning.

The objective “to learn”, however, could be achieved (more efficiently? More enjoyably?) through methods other than reading.

For example, we could listen to a podcast, interview an expert, learn by doing.

“Theories of change” force us to lay out the logic underlying our assumptions and therefore our decisions.

A simple theory of change is:

  • Activity (we do this) –> Interim Outcome (it results in something improving) –> Objective (this contributes to our objective).

For example:

  • Activity (reading) leads to Interim Oucome (it results in more knowledge being acquired) this contributes to our Objective (learning).

What Activities and Interim Outcomes can we think of?

Exploratory experiments — October 10, 2017

Exploratory experiments

In an experiment, we act and see what the action leads to.

In a hypothesis-testing experiment, we predict a consequence (i.e. form a hypothesis) and test for it.

In an exploratory experiment, we act – without a prediction or expectation – and see what follows.

Examples of exploratory experiments:

  • an infant exploring the world
  • an artist juxtaposing colours to see the effect
  • newcomer on a strange neighbourhood
  • scientist upon encountering and proving an unknown substance.

Exploratory experimenting is…

“the probing, playful activity by which we get a feel for things”.

Source: Donald A Schon, The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think in Action.

Iteration — October 9, 2017


Shape the situation… in accordance with initial appreciation of it… the situation “talks back”… then respond to the situation’s back-talk.

Iteration means obtaining regular feedback, and responding to this feedback.

There are typically more variables in a situation – types of moves, norms, interrelationships – than we can represent on a model.

So the situation is complex, and what we planned may lead to undesired consequences.

“When this happens, the designer may take account of the unintended changes he made in the situation by forming new appreciations and understandings and by making new moves.”

Source: Schon, The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think in Action.

More reading and reflection on “design thinking” and “iteration” and related concepts is needed…