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Action Plan February 21, 2007

Posted by alwilliams in Reflection.
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Personal Development
(short term= 2 weeks – 1 year; long term= 1 – 10 years)

No short term goals as they are so ingrained in and thus unlikely to be achievable.

Long Term

1. Develop the attitude that colleagues feed-back is from a professional view point and that it is not directed at me personally. There is no benefit in being sensitive at work.

2. Change my mentality of situational control to one that facilitates others to work and grow in their jobs (become a facilitator and “good for what” for all rather than simply “good at what I do”). This improves team work and stimulates a sharing environment.

3. Learn not to exhibit frustrations or apply undue pressure on people when something is not happening as fast as I would like.

Professional Development

Short Term

1. Increase the feedback loop from other people at work and engage/ stimulate a more constant evaluation process at work.

2. Understand the concepts of ‘successful management’ and different approaches that can be taken.

3. Allocate 30 mins of time every week for personal structured understanding of some of the key things that have happened in the last week. This needs to be away from my desk, in a quiet space.

Long Term

1. Develop my skills and knowledge of traditional marketing by focusing on a high level understanding of the different interlinking elements of the marketing mix;

– The PR function
– Business systems and supply chain management
– Intelligence collection
– Audience analytics and segmentation

2. Understand the changing proposition, improving technology and opportunities presented by mobile marketing.

3. Overall:
Work up the career ladder to a managerial role in an Small- Medium Enterprise that allows me to grow a business and demonstrate my skills

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Development of Personal Reflection February 20, 2007

Posted by alwilliams in Reflection.
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Jarvis (1994) suggests that knowledge of a situation itself can be an end to the process.  I think this is equally valuable to any potential resultant action we might take.  We should not believe that we must act on our conclusions if this is not necessary.  Indeed a consideration of a present situation may impact our decisions at a later date.  The time for reflection therefore should be also valued.  Times for reflection or personal evaluation need to occur for us to gain a better understanding of our role at work and this is perhaps more fundamental than what structure of reflection we choose to use.

It has been noted in the last blog that the models and theories analysed are less useful in aiding my understanding of reflection itself than it does experiential learning (or what I actually consider ‘reflective learning’).  Never the less they have given me a new appreciation of how important and useful the reflective process can be for personal development.  Previously, structured reflection was considered a measurement tool corporations use to ensure that they were getting value for money and that you delivering what is required.  It is now considered useful in its own right and that structuring the process can provide a greater appreciation of what is being reflected on.  Johns (2000) rightly suggests that concentration and time is required to make the most out of reflection.  This is logical, but often difficult to achieve in a office environment.  It is important though and needs applying to future periods of reflection.

There is also a need to appreciate that reflection itself is fluid and that different avenues need to be explored to provide a more considered understanding of the situation or ‘subject’ of reflection. As the idea of ‘types’ demonstrates we all approach a situation differently and this is influenced by certain characteristics.  Therefore a reflective structure that is personally useful should also be subject to development and one that is made to suit to the contexts I operate in (for example the marketing industry, a small team, few direct collegues in my discipline).  Above we found that structuring the process is important.  I believe that my personal characteristics influence my work to a fair degree and as such think it is also necessary to incorporate this into an action plan.  It will ensure my plan specifically helps me in improving the most relevant areas of my existance.The need for development in both our short (a few days) and mid-term (a few years) engagement with work is deemed important.  Reflective models are less useful in our long term (20 years to life time) development as they are generally used for considering specific, termporary situations.  Additionally if this time scale was adopted, by the time we reach the ‘end’, my environment may have completely changed to the point where the aim is not feasible. Alternatively I may have changed the measurement for personal success, all rendering this futile. To remedy this my long term goal needs to be fairly loose, or perhaps just guiding sentiments.  This may leave my resultant plan weak and under-defined. I will therefore focus on a more short term actions (a few days to months period).The cyclical models of Kolb and Fry (1975), and Jarvis (1994) have created an understanding that the process of reflection is important.  As a structure of reflection has also been noted as important, I am adopting the relevant parts of Johns (2000) model, which was discussed on my last blog.  The questions of course need to be tailored on my needs as a marketer, rather than for the nursing industry, for whom it was created.  As my goal is reflecting on my general position today, rather than on a specific situation, the focus needs to centre on my feelings and experiences.  Questions like “How were others feeling” is therefore less relevant here than the would be in nursing situations.  Similarly “consequences of alternative actions” will only be considered for myself rather than patients etc.Despite these points arguably being quite obvious, I think that in certain situations I would not take the time to think about these elements- as often I am consumed by emotional and irrational thought.  Thus, ensuring the 5 areas suggested by Johns (2000); aesthetics, personal (feeling), ethics, empirics and reflexivity are all considered to provide a holistic understanding is important. 

The criteria set out below is an interpretation of Johns (2000) areas for reflection.  I will begin to analyse the various aspects of my professional life using these considerations.

1. Understanding the events of what happened (in the situation)
2. The ethics surrounding our thoughts and actions at the time
3. Our personal feeling and interpretation of the situation
4. Understanding what knowledge or understanding would have changed the situation
5. Understanding if this resulted from past experience, how it fits in with my beliefs and how I feel about things in retrospect (after reflecting on the last points)

Personal Reflection based on Johns (2000) February 19, 2007

Posted by alwilliams in Reflection.
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Looking In:

The “looking in” section of this model is not present in the text below as it is the very process I am undergoing whilst writing this blog; I have space, time and calm to reflect using the reflective structure suggested by Johns (2000) [see earlier blog for explanation]. 

Looking Out:

What is the surrounding situation?  A variety of childhood issues has contributed the most to who I am.  This also applies to and impacts upon my professional life.  Although it is fairly certain to me that we are influenced by our first experiences and thus childhood, the extent of this influence will depend on how critical the events were compared to more recent events.  The more defined moments in our lives will have a greater impact on us today.  If these are personal then, as forum posts suggest;

“boundaries between the personal and the professional space become blurred, and that it is difficult to talk about professional reflection without going further into what makes us what we are.” http://www.cemp.ac.uk/macmp/forum/viewtopic.php?p=1761#1761 

Our personal and professional lives are intertwined, and if not, the driving force of our work life, which is shaped via our personality and socialisation.  As a result, a lot of the skills and approaches, I believe I have, seem to be derived from personal critical incidents.  For example throughout my childhood I lacked a strong family structure and support, with divorced parents and relatives that lived far away.  This has meant that; 

  I became highly autonomous.

  I do not readily ask for help and prefer to find solutions on my own.

  I am a sensitive person with an extrovert appearance. 

  I feel the need to prove I can do things and ‘achieve’ in life. 

All of these characteristics influence my actual work output and professional processes (as it does all my behaviour and even when I am acting as my “work self”, Cooley, 1954).  Maybe this is a result of my emotional personality or an inability to hide my true feelings, but these characteristics occasionally operate to the detriment of my professionalism in the work place.  This influences the way I operate, learn and my aims/ ambitions, more than my actual marketing skills do. Personal development therefore needs to be a key consideration along side the professional. By doing this MA and working in what I believe is a good position within the industry I feel validated in my intellectual base. But I now question whether I am on this course to feel like I am a “masters” of my trade and to show potential employers how good I am.  Or is it because I knew it would tangibly improve my skills and fulfil my reasons for being here today?  I have to say the MA is nothing like I expected and so the first sentiment may have some truth in it.  However I would say that for me this is not a bad thing, as I am happy to engage with the capitalist wheel and career etc.  Although I did initially start this course as I wanted to be a “Jack of all trades and a master of one”. 

What was/ have I been trying to achieve?  The above was my strategy for success at work- my grand plan if you will and my chosen mastery would be marketing.  I have known what I wanted to do pretty much from when I was 16.  I was really creative, loved and was good at my art.  I realised early though (and I am yet to conclude if this was a good thing or not) that this was unlikely to pay me what I think of as a decent wage.  So I decided that as I also enjoy strategic, problem solving thought, that I would go into advertising or marketing.  I tailored my ‘A Levels’ and degree towards this career.  Perhaps this limited my “Jack of all trades” ability, but I certainly had a clear plan of what I was going to do and where I would end up around now and it has all happened exactly to plan.  Yet if this is where I wanted to be am I satisfied and happy?  As Johns would ask; Did I act for the best?   

Did I act for the best? (for myself)  In retrospect I am not particularly more satisfied with my current situation than previous to achieving the above goal.  I feel that there is a the salary I strived for does nothing for me it seems- even though this is the point I thought I had made it.  Perhaps I set this goal because I wanted a measurable plan that was in line with more childhood aspirations of a ‘high flying’ life, lots of money, success etc.  I do distinctly envy the businessmen on the train to London when I was at college, on their expensive mobile phones, using their laptops and talking to their clients.  I would now say that this was not in my best interests and my outlook has changed since.  However fighting for this has not been a bad thing, nor made me unhappy.  I think this must be the ultimate goal of life (both personally and professionally) and so despite succeeding in my first, perhaps naïve action plan, I have not been deceitful to myself. Yet perhaps Cohen and Taylor (1992) are correct in that my previous ‘grand plan’ gave me a sense that what I was doing was worthwhile and a sense of being.  After all this was indeed a plan embarked upon during a hard time of my life and therefore seems feasible.  However I have no regrets for giving this lifestyle a try though and believe it has been of great benefit to me.  Nor do I think this should result in losing my need for or actual direction.  Some may suggest it could do (forum post), but in fact for me it puts the breaks on a bit.   

What knowledge could have informed me better?  Since this point I have realised that everything is too fluid or socially constructed for a ‘grand plan’ to be based on tangible things (e.g. success, money, security etc), and be of particular use.  For example I knew I wanted to go into marketing before I realised what the internet was and its eventual impact on the marketing industry.  Things in the industry have changed so much that there was a risk that I could have ended up in a position that I was not happy with, caused by external forces.  An appreciation that this can happen would therefore have been useful, as I may have considered myself to have ‘failed’, had I not been luck enough to enjoy what the Internet has brought.  Understanding the fluidity of society and the marketing industry would have achieved this.  Never the less, as a result I am going to focus on more personal ‘soft’ aspects of my life in my action plan than I would have previously.  I realised now that this drives me more than my physical professional skills and that personal characteristics and skills are more resistant to external forces than career goals and success metrics. As mentioned, I no longer believe that I am particularly satisfied with my situation (although not unhappy or dissatisfied), despite believing I would be after achieving my aims at the time.  I still do not consider that I have made it and now realise in retrospect that we never really ‘make it’, but rather the goals keep shifting and we always aspire for more.  Idealism is never a reality.  So despite my considered relative success in the marketing industry, I feel that my marketing skills may lack in a broader context.  On reflection this is because I have known for so long what I wanted to do, that I have potentially buried myself into a niche at the expense of wider understanding.  This may have been more beneficial in the long term and begs the question whether specialisation is superior to a wider but shallower knowledge base.  

How could I handle this situation better?  A revision of how I go about and actually creating my personal action plan will demonstrate this.  However I do enjoy turmoil and change, as I am so used to it, but it is unnerving possibility that “actually Al you are no way as good as you thought you were”!  Despite what may have been insinuated hard skills cannot be ignored, especially if an action plan is required to improve my skill set and essentially make me more employable.  Previously I created aspirations on the basis of my job role, salary and industry I thought I wanted to work in.  Now it is the skills themselves that are deemed important.  They shouldn’t have been ignored either, as looking back I enjoy learning new things and watching my knowledge of a subject grow.  I have taught myself Meteorology and French successfully (I enjoyed doing it and consider knowing a fair bit about them) and so making knowledge a feature of my plans should fill in any knowledge gaps and balance the attention on “soft” skills and understanding of my professional industry. 

Research and Theories of Reflection February 16, 2007

Posted by alwilliams in Reflection.
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Introduction 

Theories of reflection seem sparser than in other fields (excluding personality tests which do not focus specifically on reflection itself, but rather categorise or personality), especially considering that this is dealing with the personal construction of knowledge rather than a subject of knowledge.  Surely this warrants more investigation by theorists, as it may shed light on how knowledge, derived from theories and literature, is processed and applied.  Not only this but it is at least as important to understand how people react and assimilate knowledge of the world, than it is a piece of knowledge itself.  Perhaps it is the apparent large scope of this that is a barrier to vigorous theoretical development?
Understanding the importance of this area is a valuable reflection in itself, as it is such a natural human skill that it is likely that many people are unaware of how it occurs or what benefit it is to us.  Furthermore an attempt at trying to conceptualise the process of reflection as part of ‘experiential learning’, may allow us to structure our reflection and its application both personally and for the work environment, as suggested in my initial thoughts on reflection.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (1942)

Other theories may also help in developing this process. Topological theories like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Briggs-Myers 1942) does not specifically address reflection or how we can utilise it for personal development.  However it does suggest that we prefer and tend to process an experience (or event) in different ways, characterised by: thinking, feeling, judgement and perception.  The outcome of taking the test is our categorisation as one of 16 ‘types’ of people that approach the world in a similar way. 

Although this may have an application in understanding our potential strengths and deficiencies in dealing with our experiences, it does not provide us with a structure of how to improve our personal circumstances.  However it may go as far as stimulating reflection based on the traits derived from the model and thus point to how we might want to develop in these constructs.  This model is deemed too weak for application however, as it does not stand up to statistical scruitany (Matthews, 2004) and categorising the human race into 16 types is considered overly simplistic to say the least.

Kolb and Fry (1975)

Many of the reflective models evaluated adopt a cyclical approach (Gibbs, 1988; Atkins and Murphy, 1994; Kolb and Fry, 1975).  Such models deal with the act of reflection and learning collectively as a process.  This process has observable outcomes when testing our new concepts and as such could be measured for us to note improvement of our handling of a situation after the learning experience.  This is useful in personal development and is akin to a test-retest methodology in different situations, where we can observe an ‘improvement’ in our behaviour, essentially via trial and error (specifically in a professional context this may relate to our work ability).  These models do not suggest what ‘improvement’ represents however and so could be considered limited in their usefulness in ‘real world’ application in this sense.   

Kolb and Fry’s (1975) model suggests that the bases of our applied reflection are ‘principals’, or generalisations that we form from experience (as no situation is the same we assume the outcome of a similar situation will be the same).  It could in fact be the case that there is not another similar occassion where people can actually ‘test’ the principals formed.  Maybe such a situation does not arise again (e.g. if someone is bullied at school, but not for the rest of their lifetime).  Perhaps the resultant schema is repressed in the case of death, as Freud might suggest, which prevents us from handling such a situation better in the future?  Despite this Kolb and Fry’s (1975) model does provide a useful snapshot of what a reflective process may look like, although it is highly context dependant, as has just been demonstrated.  To further illustrate, if you make a small mistake, like run into someone on the street and they shouted at you, would such a process be utilised?  It is suggested not, as occasions like this occur so often and are relatively inconsequential, so that we do not actively process situations using the process suggested here. If we were to do so our brains surely would not be able to handle the amount of thought generated.

A key criticism of Kolb and Fry’s model is that it does not provide any help in how we might reflect or what they refer to as reflection exactly.  Is reflection a conscious and deliberated process, or a “second thought” which may occur in seconds? As stated above the comprehension and assimilation of knowledge will vary greatly from person to person.  Although all of the stages are undoubtedly important, it is the reflective ‘stage’ that will form our understanding of the world, as well as the behaviour that governs our actions that we apply in our daily lives.  The idea of stages posed here is not representative of how we think and despite the assertion that the experiential learning process can start at any point in the cycle (Kolb and Fry, 1975), realistically people’s thoughts may jump from one stage to another.  We may for example think of how to deal with a situation better and then realise that we tried that before (jumping back to reflection), before trialling a new approach.  Further more our cognition is fluid (As suggested in the forum; “Theories and Reflection”, Jan 25, 2007) and therefore it is an over simplified view that we think in stages like this. 

Conceptualising such a complex and fluid process however is undoubtedly difficult and requires simplifying like this in order to be of practicle use.  Practitioners simply need to be aware of this when applying it and take the model on face value, even though this may not yeild a deep insight on its own.  We are reminded here that there are certain considerations that need to be made when analysing a specific experience of interest.  Indeed, in what I consider structured reflection, we need an experience to observe and reflect on, which (may) lead to new understanding and ultimately testing this in new situations.  It is argued that this kind of structure is similar to what many people experience any way e.g;

“what happened” (observation and experience),

“why did this happen” (reflection),

“what would I do differently?” (conceptualisation)

Despite this model’s flaws, this does not detract from the fact that it is a useful starting point.  Essentially it is a simple but effective observation that can direct our learning process, but needs to be supplimented with an understanding of reflection itself and of the limitations it brings with it.

Jarvis (1994)

This model takes into consideration that different situations induce (and may require) different approaches and furthers Kolb and Fry’s (1975) model as a result.  As a more ‘web’ based diagram with more possible outcomes (e.g. memorisation of the situation, or practiced experimentation), scenarios that did not fit into Kolb and Fry’s (1975) model work here.  For example in immediate situations (e.g. our example where someone shouts at you in the street) the reaction here is likely to be ‘presumed’ so we say “sorry”, but no further reflection or action is taken.   Not only does this account for a more natural responses (like routine behaviours and thought processes e.g. crossing a road), it also illustrates more structured ‘reflective learning’ and ‘reflective practice’, which is noted as similar to Schon’s reflection whilst we are in the action/ experience itself.  As a result Jarvis appreciates that reflection can take different formats and occurs as a result of a varying quality of incidents in our daily lives.  For the purpose of our structured personal development it is therefore suggested that the stages of ‘experiential learning’ should be followed to be successful in doing so.  However the stages for this process are very similar to those suggested by Kolb and Fry (1975).  The process illustrated here is more comprehensive to include ‘evaluation’ of our experience and also points out that experience needs commiting to memory before it can be assimilated into our existing schema.  It could be argued that this is unnecessary detail and that certain components could be combined.  For example it might be suggested that when people memorise their evaluation of an experience is also the point when their existing beliefs are either reinforced or changed and thus these stages can be combined.  However it is argued here that this is somewhat useful as after someone has changed their belief, this could be reversed following a similar incident.  An additional arrow would therefore flow from stage 9, for example, then to stages 5, 8, 6 and then finally 4.  If memorisation was integrated with the resultant beliefs (stages 9 and 4) this process would not be possible.  In essence it is believed that this captures the complexities and situational variations witness in the real world. The fundamental criticism remains with this model however and that is the problem of a stage based model in what is often a situation where there are numerous processes occuring at the same time, or considerations that are made in no particular order.  Also, this model is again not particularly helpful in addressing what we need to do at being effective at reflecting, to ensure that we are evaluating or experimenting with the correct resulting concepts.  Never the less this is deemed the most successful model of reflection that has been evaluated and has successfully built on the previous model.

 John (2000)

John (2000) is useful in helping our understanding of how to actually reflect and as such may provide a useful addition to the structure of reflection suggest above.  Again it is important to note here that context is king.  As reflection is an internal (as well as potentially externally directed e.g. to a mentor) it is impacted upon by our emotions.  This may mean that we are unable to clearly structure our reflection, especially if the emotion is highly charged.  This is interesting considering this was produced for nurses to reflect and may be why ‘space’ and ‘focus’ is required specifically in the model.  Never the less this is likely to be useful in all situations, especially a removal of the immediate situation at work, as it dedicated time and effort to the reflective process.

Despite this John (2000) suggests that we need to both “Look in” and “Look out”. We need to try and make sense of what happens around us in order to make use of the experience.  This suggests to me that this is additional and seperate from our own feelings and perceptions of the situation.  Unfortunately due to the our processing of events, obtaining a subjective view of the situation, without being influenced by our thoughts and feelings is difficult.  This is perhaps why a mentor or independent person is required to provide a degree of objectivity and indeed people are observed to find talking about their problems easier.  Yet this person would have to also experienced the situation in question in order to provide the subjectivity discussed here.  As such it is suggested that “looking out” is more difficult than it initially seems and again, highy personal. 

This issue of subjectivity run throughout John’s (2000) theory, where of course people’s view on empirics also may differ greatly.  Does this mean that we are furthering our subjective view of the world and can this actually lead to an insightful reflection if it is subject to our own minds as gatekeepers to the process?  Subjectivity is undoubtedly necessary for our internal understanding and despite the risk of an insular conclusion from reflection John’s (2000) model provides a useful and basic structure to begin the reflective process, which is summarised here:

1.  Find a space and think about how you are feeling and what you are thinking about

2.  what happened in the situation and how were the people involved feeling?

3.  Why did I feel the way I did?

4.  Did I act for the best and what was the best way?

5.  What knowledge or experience could have informed my decision and actions here?

6.  What could I do better and how would this make me feel?

Initial Thoughts on Reflection February 12, 2007

Posted by alwilliams in Reflection.
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I believe there are different qualities of reflection, which achieve different aims (if at all). These vary in quality and their approach to reflection. There is to begin with structured and unstructured reflection.

Structured and Unstructured Reflection:

I have just finished a reflective blog that looks back at the key themes of my first project and what the areas for development are. This (in a similar vain to the conclusion) adopts a structured reflection of the work just completed. There are then unstructured reflective times where we think about things (for example a long car journey as Deb says) or because we have time or something significant occurs that demands our attention (as Deb says when we make a huge mistake and think about how to change this or not do it again).

Structured reflection:
– ‘Self-imposed’ reflection, as I am doing now, to understand if I did what I said I was going to last year. This is directed and has a specific purpose
– ‘Team imposed’ reflection where individual’s successes/ failures are thought about as a team and still requires personal reflection
– ‘Process imposed’ reflection where standardised forms are jammed in front of you to show others (generally numerically) how you have done for the last campaign etc. (project submission form)
see; http://www.ncsl.org.uk/media/C41/A1/PRE.doc

Unstructured reflection:
– ‘Suggested’ reflection where someone observes something about you or what you have done that stimulates immediate reflection
– ‘Internal’ reflection when you actively think about a problem or situation that is bugging you and you think needs to change
– ‘Daydream’ reflection when you are thinking about numerous things, which may include reflective elements or not. Essentially this is where your mind wanders on a very long car journey and too much time.

Ok I made all of these terms up to “best fit” what I mean. These do not say how deep this reflection goes or how they are structured though. I don’t want this post to be too long, so I would just say that there are many aspects of reflection.

– Whether it is directed at something or not
– Whether there is a process created for the purpose of active reflection
– What reflection is aimed at is likely to play an important part (e.g. comparing the loss of a loved one because they grew to hate you will invoke a different kind of reflection than whether you hit last years targets of world domination 😉