Whilst working in Singapore this week, i’m exploring learning, knowledge and meaning from a variety of angles. Yesterday we looked at how meaning is built slowly, over time, how we develop tools to help us read the environment and explore. We looked at how things can appear chaotic, without meaning, from one perspective, whilst being totally ordered and under control from another. Today, i want to think about reflection and feedback, as we refine our initial sensations and perceptions into true knowledge and meaning.
I wasn’t exactly being told off, but i certainly took the hint. The feedback was clear. My view of Singapore so far has been decidedly narrow: my perspective is out. “Don’t judge Singapore on Sentosa” exclaimed one of my new colleagues at the conference this morning’. Her thoughts were echoed by two others, one in person and one US colleague through our internal Yammer system, “for this nation that is so young (independence in 1965), this port is truly remarkable. Let me assure you that the apparent chaos is definitely not chaos“. The meaning that i’ve constructed is based on too few observations: i’ve only got part of the picture. I’m jumping to conclusions.
Well, it’s fair feedback, after all, i’ve not left the hotel complex yet, i’m working! But at the weekend, my perspective will change: i will be able to explore.
And the point of exploration is? To broaden our horizons! To stretch beyond what we know and into the unknown. To put on our shoes (or sandals) and tread a new path.
Already, the hotel is familiar. There is the smiling face of the concierge and his young assistant, the guy with the bleached hair at the bar, the way the lift says ‘doors a closing’ on every trip and the familiarity of the hotel room. In nearly no time at all, an environment that was strange has become familiar (even if my overall perspective is still narrow)
It’s the same with the learning: some of the ideas that were new have been rehashed and reframed. Some of my existing knowledge and ideas have been challenged. Some have been found wanting, others have emerged better, stronger. Learning is about changing: after i learn i am a different person. So it is here. As my knowledge builds through the generosity of others, the sharing of ideas, so does the way i construct meaning.
But it doesn’t happen without reflection and, in this case, without feedback. Feedback and reflection are integral to developing knowledge and meaning.
Learning environments need to provide both challenge and support to be effective. I don’t want someone telling me what i got right so much as challenging me with what i could do better. Some of my ideas are good, others less so, some plain wrong. I’m self aware enough to spot some of the obvious flaws, but other things i’ll never spot without feedback. Like waving my hands about. When i present, i wave my hands around, like a windmill apparently. I would never have noticed this if it wasn’t for some feedback once. I’m self aware, but i can’t see myself. My perspective is too narrow. Only from the outside can i ‘get it’.
Healthy debate is exciting, it lets us share knowledge and share our ignorance. I can paint a picture of what i understand and share your view. We can dissect the differences. The point of the exercise isn’t to uncover some hidden truth, it’s perfectly ok for us both to still differ, but the process of reflection and the gathering of feedback will broaden our perspective, will make us stronger learners.
Now, this is easy when we are doing things we enjoy, when we are open to feedback, but very often in organisational development, we are more threatened, less open to change. For an organisation, the challenge is to create spaces that are safe for giving and receiving feedback. As we move towards the adoption of wider, semi formal, social learning spaces, we need to ensure that there is clarity about how we can engage there. Are these spaces assessed? Can i say whatever i like? Am i being observed? Without clarity, we won’t have honesty.
It’s right that people challenge my analysis of Singapore: the point of my diary this week is to explore my evolving understanding of the place. As my knowledge builds, i use it to construct meaning: meaning in the environment and history, in the culture, in my ability to function meaningfully here, rather than just feel isolated, adrift, lost and far from home.
By it’s nature this is an informal voyage through the week: after all, this is a time for exploration, not a time to be researching and studying. I just want to use the blog as a space for reflection and gathering feedback and, next week, be able to look back and see how the meaning emerged from the chaos.