Is Reflection a Lost Art?

A close friend recently asked me if I thought writing is a lost art. “Why do you say that?” I asked.

Keep Learning written on rural road.jpeg

“Mostly,” she said, “because all I see these days are people writing on social media, in short bursts, with multiple typos, poor grammar, and no rigor to the thoughtfulness of the message.”

Having still not answered her question, I thought for a little bit, mostly about why I personally like to write.

“No,” I answered.  “I don't believe writing is a lost art.  I believe the leadership principle of reflection is a lost art.”

“Interesting”, was my friend’s reply. “What do you mean by that?”

“Well,” I said, “if I think back on the business books I have written, and the recent novel that I published, the true precipice of my writing was to practice the lean leadership principle of reflection. In order to write thoughtfully, you need to put yourself in a quiet place, you need to unplug, you need to assemble your disconnected thoughts on paper, then analyze and synthesize these thoughts in order to package them in such a way that a stranger can understand the lessons and concepts that you are trying to communicate. And often when I'm writing, I reread what I’ve written, and I realize that my thoughts are not even clear in my own mind. This forces me to work at it again – with sleeves rolled up – in order to truly understand what I've learned as a leader relative to the concepts I am writing about. This is not always easy. However, to quote Snoopy from Charlie Brown, ‘I am a great admirer of my own writing’, so this allows me to soldier on.”

The Art of Reflection

If you look at a traditional definition of the word reflection, we see descriptive words such as: to contemplate; to ponder; to meditate; to seriously consider; to learn from.

As a lean practitioner (and student), and the CEO and owner of a supply chain company, there is always much to reflect on:  How are we adding value to our customers? Where is there waste in the system? Why did that last process design not work exactly as we had assumed it would? What can we learn every day from our actions striving for relentless continuous improvement to reach the ultimate goal of maximizing customer value at the lowest possible total cost to the business system?

I sometimes fear reflection from a leadership point-of-view may be becoming a lost art. We feel like we need to move at lightning speed, which in many cases we do; however, what falls off our calendar because of this new speed? Is it…thoughtful conversations with team members, coaching and mentoring across the organization, and our own private quiet time – time that is absolutely required if we are going to learn as leaders, and truly understand how our own behaviors and decisions are working towards building a lean culture of learning.

As a naturally born extrovert, I’ve learned the hard way that it's very difficult to learn while talking. Similarly, I believe it's difficult to learn while walking to meetings, getting on airplanes, or racing around doing a myriad of other activities that are important, however, they don't provide an adequate environment for true reflection and learning.

So, as a leader, how do you take time to reflect and deeply learn from past events and past decisions? How do you open your mind up for honest, transparent self-discovery on what you have learned from your successes and your failures? This is the essence of the Lean culture. To set a Plan, to Do, then to Check and Act upon known outcomes and the assumptions made to achieve those outcomes. The Check and Act in PDCA is, in fact, driven by the lost art of reflection.

For me, writing creates an effective environment for true reflection.

What is your process?

Posted by Robert Martichenko

blog author

Robert is CEO of LeanCor Supply Chain Group. He is also a speaker and award-winning author of several business books - including "Discovering Hidden Profit" and his first novel - "Drift and Hum." Robert has spent over 25 years learning and implementing lean and operational excellence with a focus on end-to-end supply chain management across a wide array of industries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and an MBA.

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Lessons in Lean : Lessons in Leadership - The Blog

There is no question that building an organizational culture of continuous improvement is a progressive evolution that takes time. In this blog, Robert Martichenko discusses his lessons learned while building these cultures in our new world of constant disruption - sharing key knowledge that will lead today’s business leaders down the path toward discovering hidden profit. 

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