Thursday, 12 July 2012

Reflections on reflection

If you happened upon my previous post about my personal thoughts on levels of competence, as discussed by Sheila Webber in her blog post on cpd23, then you will see where I am coming from with this post!!

Although I realise I lack confidence in my ability to do just about anything, this is really the only self-awareness that I have gained over the years! Rather pathetic really, because, if I was more self-aware then I’d be able to work on those areas where I’m not so good and become a better person.

Over the years, however, there have been illuminating moments where I have realised a bit more about myself. The first of these was when I did the Belbin team-working questionnaire and realised that I really had no preferred role and so was really a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades (I thought I'd blogged about this but can't seem to find it now, so perhaps I didn't!).

More recently, I have done another short questionnaire that has helped me to become a little bit more self-aware. Now, please don’t ask me why, given my lack of confidence, but I decided I’d like to investigate what it meant to be a mentor within the profession, and to that end I enrolled on the CILIP PTEG mentoring course. This was a day-long event that concentrated on the skills needed in order to mentor a CILIP chartership, or ACLIP candidate, and along the way we did a short questionnaire on learning styles.

I’ve done learning styles questionnaires before, but those were to do with whether you were an aural or a visual or a kinesthetic learner; the one we did on the mentoring course was along the lines of the Honey and Mumford one. Now, this was illuminating! Although, if I think about it hard enough, it shouldn’t have been illuminating, I should already have known what my preferred style was!

Anyway, in short, it turned out I was 4 parts reflective, 3 parts theorist, and 0 parts activist or pragmatist. I’m sure I’m not breaking any confidences if I say that the room was full of about half and half – that is half reflective/theorists and half activists/pragmatists, with one or two folk having a sole predominant style – and, knowing this, it was interesting to be more aware of how we all interacted.

As I said above, this was one of those light bulb moments for me! It helped to explain how and why I find it difficult to work with people who make snap decisions; I can feel wrong-footed, steam-rollered over, lacking in intelligence and unworthy. However, I now recognise that really I ought to work towards being less reflective/theoretical as sometimes it’s important to make decisions and take action rather more quickly than I do.

That led me onto thinking about change, and my attitude towards it. I’ve always said I don’t much like change, but actually, it’s probably more to do with being given enough time to think about the specific change and the implications/ramifications/consequences/impact the change might have on me, on my work, on my workplace, on my colleagues and on the users! If I feel I haven’t had enough time to reflect on it then I can feel threatened by it and overwhelmed. Trouble is, there isn’t always time to think too long and hard; some changes have to be made quickly, either in response to something or to pre-empt things. 

As with most things, I guess it’s all about balance, self-awareness, and not letting styles get in the way of working, and not letting styles become levels of unconscious competence that drift into levels of unconscious incompetence – meaning yes, it’s good to think and reflect, and yes, I’m quite good at it, but if I think too long I’ll miss the action and miss the chance to get things done!

Of course, I can always find something that vindicates the way I am! Clutterbuck (2004) said:

“people … have less and less time to stop and think deeply … Deep, reflective thinking is as essential to the effectiveness of our conscious brain as REM sleep is to our unconscious. In both cases we become dysfunctional if our minds do not carry out the essential task of analysing, structuring, organising and storing.”

Julian Baggini, in an interview on Radio 4’s Start the Week, is also an advocator of procrastination as a way to achieve things. Contrast this to Malcolm Gladwell and his Blink theories, and maybe somewhere in between is the perfect solution!


Clutterbuck, David. (2004). Everyone needs a mentor: fostering talent in your organisation. 4th ed. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.


  1. Your post rang a lot of bells with me - I even began to wonder if we were related! I tend to think that I'm rubbish at making decisions, but actually I think it is more that I take time to make decisions and that I'm not very good at making snap decisions. As you say, there are times when this is necessary so somehow I need to develop that ability. I'd be interested to know if you have any good tips.

    1. Lol! Maybe we're related in that we're both cataloguers!! Maybe this is a trait of cataloguers? I'm sure there's a research project in there somewhere about the characters/character traits of those who embark on a cataloguing career! I'm currently looking into cataloguing skills, but maybe I should be investigating learning styles and Belbin team roles of all the cataloguers I know!! I think I can now make snap decisions, but when I do I then spend days/weeks/months worrying about what I would have done if I'd been given more time - which would obviously have been to make a better decision. Sighhhhhhh! I think the beauty of being that bit older is that I am now beginning to think "what the heck, does it really matter" which helps me to come to a decision a bit more quickly. Spontaneity is another symptom of the reflective person, or rather, lack of it, but I'm slowly getting over that too! One tip I do have is if you need to arrange something (a meeting, an open day, a visit etc.) book the date (and preferably the venue if you know how much space you need) before planning the content; I find I can spend far too long deciding what to cover and then miss the best time to do it! Do you have any tips?