• Simon Phillips

In this complex world we can be better problem solvers.



‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.' (1)

It is a familiar quote…

History is all about change – or as the quote warns – repeating the same mistakes. We all want to ‘move on’, gaining wisdom as we go.

In our working lives we are required to ‘change’ as the need arises and we always seem to be on the back foot. Rarely do I meet a client who doesn’t struggle to balance the need to deliver today’s demands with the strategic need to plan for the future – to not be a slave to history.

We are not often encouraged to think reflectively because it means thinking about something that has past – it is now history. That is just not in the culture of most organisations – move on to the next problem – solve it – move on again. This sense of achieving is recognised and rewarded in most hierarchies.

This linear thinking restricts learning and can:

- Lead to Costly Unintended Consequences - such as: shifting costs rather than building savings, ‘survivor syndrome’, loss of valued talent;

- Lead you down a similar path – doomed to repeat history, stifling innovation;

- Create a sense of Déjà vu which increases resistance from the people you need to help fix the problem;

- Lengthen the time a problem takes to solve ;

- Result in the problems becoming more complex and harder to fully solve.

In ‘Why We Should All Invest Time in Reflective Thinking’ (from "Change Wisdom, Insights from Successful Change Makers to Guide Your Future") I advocate a practice that has now become commonplace in most higher learning environments. Reflective learning allows us to examine, review, evaluate, assess and question our decisions. It helps us stop repeating the same thing over and over again or following other people’s agendas. And reflectivity provides real benefits with problem solving capability.

We encourage the habit by starting our learners with a Change Maker Development Journal - a structured approach to reflective learning. It makes learning an active process – not something that is done to you but, in the practice of reflection, something you do to yourself and take active responsibility in. So when we introduce new concepts or new ways to interpret ideas the reflective journal guides the user to evaluate how their experiences work for them - can the theories be adapted or modified to be more helpful for that situation? How are they influencing the success or detriment of that problem-solving activity?

For the reflective habit to be most powerful individuals are not only personally reflective but they encourage reflectivity in others. We help organisations to create this with innovative co-coaching - self-managed coaching pairs where each challenges the other to stretch their reflective learning. So building reflection into the culture of the organisation and strengthening their problem solving capability and instils collective learning.

As John le Carre said ‘Tomorrow was created yesterday’ (2)

1 The quote is most likely due to writer and philosopher George Santayana, 1863-1952, philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist. Its original form it read, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

2 in ‘A most wanted man’


Nicky's full discussion about reflective thinking appears in "Change Wisdom", available globally on Amazon.

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