07 February 2019

My Learning - Part 13 - Reflection


I've read a lot, listened a lot, done a lot, observed a lot and, well... experienced a lot. This means there's plenty of good stuff in my head already.

Reflection is my method to recall, refresh and retool those existing skills and ideas. Retooling in this case refers to taking a skill or piece of knowledge I already have and apply it to something new. For instance, software testing have taught me a lot about critical thinking, skills and experiences I can retool to fit e.g. coaching or parenting.

Reflection also tends to make me act.


What actually makes me reflect is something I still haven't quite understood. I know I gravitate towards "new stuff" such as new books, new podcasts, new exercises etc. even when reflection probably would be my best tool. At the same time I can sometimes drop everything and sit down for days or even weeks fully committed to reflection... but I can't see the pattern or trigger that initiates my reflection sessions.

Understanding these triggers is something I need to study and experiment more with.


When I get myself to sit down and reflect, what I do is I grab my notebook and start to make a plan: What kind of information am I trying to get out of my head and why? Forcing myself to create a plan like that can sometimes help me start reflecting but it doesn't work as consistently as I'd like.

What happens after that initial plan varies but usually the process is to get as much information as possible out of my head and on paper so I can use this information to start building a skeleton. The gaps that form might be areas that need additional reflection, need more education or a sign that the model I based my skeleton on is flawed. Finally I try to summarize everything in a way that's easy to come back to and that helps me remember the most important ideas from the reflection.

Or a better structured description:
  • I have a topic
  • I create a big set of questions
  • I try to answer these questions
  • I sort and group the answers
  • I prioritize and trim the groups
  • I create a skeleton where the most important answers fit
  • I add the other relevant answers to the skeleton
  • I try to visualize the skeleton in a way that matters to me
  • I trim away the last parts that just don't fit or aren't important enough


Last summer I wanted to "relearn myself" to help me figure out what I wanted my future role and career to be like.

The result:
English | Swedish

Behind those simple images are roughly 20 pages of notes on paper, a 14 page text document on Google Docs and various drafts with different approaches on how to summarize and visualize this.


A more specific form of reflection I use is deconstruction. What I mean with deconstruction is basically to create my own, basic model of something.

In practice I start with the question "what does <topic> mean to me?". To be able to do this I need at least some level of understanding already. After this I iterate the following approaches over and over again until I start to see a clear pattern and/or feel like screaming "Eureka!":
  1. I try to form my own definition and question it relentlessly until it seems to hold true (for me)
  2. I collect and look carefully at all the details that makes up this topic looking for patterns
  3. I remove or group things together until I have 1-5 distinct groups which each (hopefully) describes a core concept.
  4. I look at the topic and simply ask: What is actually most important here?
To give you an example of a deconstruction:
Helena Jeret-Mäe suggested we would together create our own definition of software testing. According to my memory we first tried to just modify existing definitions but that didn't work. So instead we started describing what testing meant to us in a very detailed manner. After we had done this for a while we started removing anything that didn't seem essential to these descriptions, which actually made us go down several very distinct paths of what testing might be (this particular part taught me a lot). I think we had to go back and redo the description at least twice because what was left after we had trimmed the long description just didn't make sense the first few times.

After a while we had a very rough "definition" based on the trimmed down description and started questioning the wording, tested it against different scenarios etc. After a bunch of iterations like this we ended up with something pretty close to the definitions described by many of our heroes. 

This may sound anticlimactic but the outcome is not what was important...

So why is deconstruction useful to me?
  • First and foremost the deep understanding I get of the topic is unmatched!
  • The core I end up with often form an excellent structure to tie future knowledge to and even if it may look similar to existing definitions or models this core is something I understand beyond the words' linguistic meaning.
  • This new structure allows me to ignore large parts of e.g. frameworks since I just need their core concepts and practices and then I can map them to my own structure which also makes the frameworks easier to remember and easier to compare.
  • It provides a foundation I actually understand when I try to explain the topic to someone else.
  • It provides a plausible answer to "any" question (assuming my deconstruction is somewhat valid) since I can derive an answer from my model: "for my deconstruction to be correct the answer should be...".
Obviously I have to test my deconstruction carefully to see if it actually holds true (enough) or at least learn its weaknesses. This means the deconstruction I did with Helena 2014 is something I trust a lot more than for instance the deconstruction I did of coaching just about a month ago.

Reflection as a reaction

Most of the reflecting I do happen as an immediate reaction to something rather than as a planned activity though. For instance I might prepare a presentation and realize there's a gap in my understanding. Instead of searching for an answer online I can stop and ask "what's missing here", more often than not I have a sufficient answer myself.

Examples of activities that force me to reflect like this are:
  • Exercises
  • Discussions
  • Explain something (teach, present etc.)
  • Prepare a presentation or exercise
  • Summarize
  • Apply something to a new situation
  • Review something
  • Help someone else with something
The drawback with reflection triggered this way though is it usually only makes me answer one specific question and these answers rarely results in action, just information.


I've used coaching questions and techniques as part of my reflection for a long time and called this self-coaching. As mentioned several times now; this blog series have made me realize though that I could use the complete coaching structure I've learned to initiate a full coaching session with myself including follow ups on my actions.


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