Edgeware - Aides


Complexity lens

Tune to the edge
Shadow system


Paul Plsek & Associates

The basic idea:

The art of temporarily detaching oneself from a situation in order to think clearly about it, assign interpretation and meaning to the situation, and draw out deeper learnings.

New ways of working

Learn as you go
Another way to think
Make it or let it


Potential context for use:
  • Literally, anytime. This is the most ubiquitous aide. It is useful to reflect before you do anything, and after you do anything.


Reflection is a natural part of any learning. Whether we think about it or not, things happen all around us, and will simply continue to happen. However, if we think about them - reflect on them, learn from them - we might see patterns in the events around us that help us better understand what is going on. Without reflection, we remain hapless victims (or, if we are lucky, hapless beneficiaries) of events. With reflection, we can begin to modify our actions and expectations and, potentially, have a more constructive impact on future events. While it could be argued that reflection is what everyone does naturally every minute of the day, what we are talking about here is a conscious and purposeful effort that builds capacity for more effective action on the part of the individual or group participating in the reflection.

The basic action of reflection is to ask questions such as:

  • What do we think is going on here?

  • What did we intend to happen? What did happen?

  • How is what I am observing connected with deeper theories about how things work?

  • Here is my view and how I arrived at it; how do others see it?

  • What assumptions are we making?

  • What pressures seem to be at play in the system?

  • What role am I playing?

  • What am I thinking? feeling?

  • What leads me to think and feel the way I do?

  • What am I going to do with my insight?

  • ...and so on.

The goal of this inquiry is to become more aware of one's own thinking and reasoning.

As a matter of style, some people prefer to reflect by themselves, while others prefer to reflect in conversation with others. Both modes are useful and neither should be used to the exclusion of the other. Individuals who prefer to reflect by themselves will benefit greatly from seeing the points of view and mental models of others. On the other hand, those who can only reflect in conversation with others may not be developing sufficient self-reflective skills for use in situations when immediate action is needed.

Three Kinds of Reflection

We can speak of at least three different types of reflection:

  • Hindsight reflection involves looking back on past events, possibly re-interpreting them, and drawing out lessons learned.

  • Foresight reflection involves imaginatively playing out events into the future for the purpose of understanding more about what to do in the present and what signals to monitor for direction.

  • In-sight reflection is the most subtle skill in that it involves simultaneously being both in a present situation and detached from that situation; simultaneously participating in a situation, interpreting the situation, adjusting the situation, and learning from the situation.

The modern concept of reflective learning can be traced to philosopher John Dewey, and was further developed by several others. For example, reflection is the "Study" phase of the Shewhart-Deming cycle of Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA).


The entire Tales of Complexity section is an illustration of reflection. There are examples of all three types of reflection, as well as both individual and group reflection. Some of the Tales also directly illustrate the value of multiple lenses, in that various people have offered their reflections. The Tales cited in the margin illustrate the direct use of this aide as part of an evolving context.

Facilitator's Tips:
  • Be a good model of reflection yourself. Balance your own private and group reflection. Make it known that you keep a journal, or at least make time for private reflection. When you ask questions in groups, don't look for a particular "right answer," and don't always feel that you have to supply an answer or have the last word. Be comfortable with silence. Be careful of your own defensive reactions. Honor other's points of view as true for them and an important part of the co-evolving CAS.

  • Stress the need for diversity of reflection. Challenge too easy consensus and over-simplified labels. Ask: That's one way of seeing it, what are others? How do you think (a specific person or group) would see that?

  • Remember that reflection is only one phase of a cycle of learning that also involves doing something. Always ask the "So what?" question. What have we learned from this? What are we going to do now?

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Copyright 2001, Paul E. Plsek & Associates,
www.directedcreativity.com Permission to copy for educational purposes only.
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