Learning by Reflecting

Image (c) Victor Perez

I recently read a book on Creativity by Herbert Myers and Richard Gerstman in which they profiled 20 creative individuals. I was particularly intrigued by one of the profiles, Edward Albee, a famous American playwright’s observation on creativity.

Albee said that “many people in the world have the same experiences, depending upon their intelligence, their sensitivity, and their willingness to pay attention to what is going on. The only thing that separates the creative from the non-creative is the fact that creative people are not content to merely have the experience, but insist on commenting on it”.

He also stated that some people translate their experiences into things such as art, literature or music. Creative output is the comment they make on the experience that everyone else has had. The very best do it because they are incomplete without doing it. Albee discovered that good music and reading turned him more and more into the kind of person who was going to be able, when the time came, to comment and make that translation from the experience to the useful exploitation of the experience.

I believe that the one way of exploiting experience is by reflection. This can be defined as simply giving serious thought to a matter or an experience. Donald Schon postulated that there are two ways to practice reflection.

(1) Reflection-in-action: This means that you are consciously reflecting while working on a task. This is the act of being aware of your thought processes that deal with what you’re doing. You are not just mindlessly doing the task but consciously thinking about it. Most of the activities you tackle on a daily basis are habitual; tasks which you engage in mindlessly. This is because they have become routine and you tend to operate on auto-pilot when doing them. Reflection-in-action breaks you out of this mindless mindset. You are making sense of the experience as you are undergoing it by trying to identify what makes the experience unique and also what you can learn from it. This enables you to make on-the-spot critical adjustments and responses to the situation.

(2) Reflection-on-action: This involves the act of reflecting after the event or task. This is the act of evaluating an experience after the fact but with the goal of drawing lessons that would help in similar events in the future. Journaling is one way of reflecting-on-action. The benefit of hindsight is one of the outcomes of reflection-on-action.

Creative people refuse to let life pass them by, but maximise their experiences by extracting meaningful lessons from it which they can convert to creative outputs.  They are always learning by reflecting.

Q: Is life passing you by or are you exploiting your life experiences via reflection?

One reply on “Learning by Reflecting”

Thanks Prof, I gotta say this is another very timely article. I can really connect with this post because right now, part of my clinical training as an Speech and Language Therapist is to engage in reflective practice, after a session. This is essentially reflection on action. It’s not always fun b/c I have to deal with my shortcomings as I reflect. However, I find it useful because it gives me the opportunity to review, regroup and make necessary amendments by the next next clinic session. Truth is I see evidence of improvement b/c of reflecting. Hindsight is truly 20/20… Learning by reflecting helps me minimize repeated mistakes.

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