Reflective Practitioner Conference
TAKING THE MYSTERY OUT OF THE MASTERY
Victor J. Friedman
Ruppin Insitute, Israel
Reflective practitioners display an artistry which people
often attribute it to some innate and rare talent (Schön 1983, 1987).
In order to make this "mystery of the mastery" accessible, Schön
(1983) carefully analyzed the artistry behind reflective practice and
suggested an approach to learning inspired by training in the creative
and performing arts (1987). Nevertheless, many people still find it difficult
to put these ideas into practice or, as observer asked, "do you need
to *be* Chris Argyris or Don Schön" in order to so. In this
paper I shall describe a number of strategies for taking the mystery out
of the mastery and making reflective practice more accessible to "normal"
practitioners in a variety of fields.
In order to develop skills of reflection, people must engage
in reflective conversations about practice problems in which they make
their reasoning explicit, critically inquire into their ways of framing
problems, and experiment with new ways of framing and acting on those
frames. Learners must also reflect on their reflection in order to develop
the skills required and to grapple with the obstacles to acquiring those
skills. However, because reflection begins with experiencing doubt, or
puzzles, in a practice situation, developing competency involves predicaments
for both learners and teachers (Schön, 1987). Learners must learn
to doubt what seems obvious and to *not* understand or know what to do.
Experiencing doubt about one's world and one's own competence can be highly
threatening. The challenge for teachers is to design reflective conversations
which induce profound uncertainty without losing learners to anxiety,
despair, or resistance.
The concept of "unfreezing" (Lewin, 1951; Schein,
1969) offers a theory for designing such learning processes (Friedman
& Lipshitz, 1992). Unfreezing means upsetting a system's equilibrium
so that change (i.e. movement toward a new equilibrium) can occur. Schein
(1969) identified three mechanisms of unfreezing: disconfirmation, guilt-anxiety,
and creating psychological safety. The key to teaching skills of reflection
is maintaining the right balance between attempts to disturb the equilibrium
through disconfirmation and guilt-anxiety and attempts to support learners
by creating psychological safety. Too much threat and people may become
overwhelmed and withdraw from the process. Too much safety and people
may not be challenged sufficiently to take the leap.
Over the past ten years I have experimented with different
ways of developing such learning processes. The following are four strategies
which I have developed in response to problems that arose in my attempts
to teach reflective practice. These strategies are presented in the order
in which I use them in workshops ranging from two days to a week.
Many practitioners are not familiar with the work of Argyris
and Schön or find it hard to understand what they have written. As
a result, learners have little idea of what they are going to learn. In
my experience a formal conceptual overview is almost useless, so I try
to help them understand by drawing an analogy between driving a car and
action in the social world. Most people have had the experience of driving
quite far while thinking about something else (work, home, etc.) and being
totally unaware of their driving. By reflecting on this experience people
realize that any skill, and not just driving, entails the ability to produce
complex actions without consciously thinking about them. They also see
that at times they are able to interrupt these skilled behaviors and to
employ conscious reasoning.
However, I carry the analogy a step further to discuss the
natural reaction of drivers who go into a skid. For some unknown reason
this reaction, stepping on the brakes and turning away from the direction
of the skid, is precisely the wrong thing to do. Drivers are taught that
they should pump the breaks and turn into the direction of the skid. However,
in order to do this they must interrupt their natural, "skilled"
reactions and replace them with something unnatural. In addition to the
analogy I use a case study to illustrate the issues of "skill"
and "skid" in a professional practice situation. The image of
the "skid" usually becomes a central metaphor which for describing
situations when their automatic, skilled reasoning and behavior are getting
them into trouble .
One of the major obstacles to reflection is the tendency
of people to regard their reality images (mental models) which they construct
as concrete and unambiguous. In order to help learners experience doubt,
I use a series of brief games, exercises, and cases which lead them to
develop clear and unequivocal perceptions which are then disconfirmed.
In debriefing these exercises, I ask learners to talk about what went
on in their minds as they constructed their reality images and what led
them to perceive the situation as obvious or unequivocal (i.e. to experience
disconfirmation). Finally I provide a conceptual framework which describes
how people construct reality images and the implications for action. The
conceptual framework provides psychological safety because it enables
learners to make sense of their difficulties.
The stimuli and the conceptual framework themselves may
vary. Wim Overmeer, for instance, uses math problems with managers who
have a strong quantitative or engineering orientation. Furthermore, he
focuses on the way in which the learners "frame" the problem
(rather than the issue of reality construction) and the implications of
their framing for effectiveness in solving it.
The important point is that the stimulus itself should involve
a seemingly clear and simple situation which is then made increasingly
unclear as the teacher leads the learners through a process of taking
a closer look at the situation and their reasoning about it. Because reflection
itself involves a high degree of cognitive complexity (i.e. thinking about
how you are thinking"), learners may become overwhelmed if the instrumental
problem is too complex or involves highly threatening issues. For the
same reason I begin with exercises which are fun (or funny) and not too
threatening to the learners' sense of competence and gradually "up
There is a fascinating gap between the awareness of that
one's perception of reality is a kind of hypotheses (rather than a fact)
and the ability of people to act on that knowledge by questioning and
openly testing their reality images. I test this proposition test and
attempt to bridge the gap between awareness and action by using a modified
version of the X-Y exercise developed by Chris Argyris (1982).
Learners are asked to evaluate a manager's performance,
which is almost always negative, and are then asked how they would communicate
their evaluation to the manager if they were his boss. At this point most
participants find themselves in a dilemma (a "skid"). If they
tell the manager what they really think, they will do to him what he did
to the subordinate (in the case) and which they judged as ineffective.
If they don't tell the manager what they think, he will not learn from
I explore this dilemma with the participants and we role
play their suggested strategies for dealing with it. Participants almost
invariably act as if their perception of the situation were a fact, which
they try to impose on the other either directly or indirectly. When participants
(myself included) experience themselves going into a skid, I stop the
action and ask them to state explicitly how they perceive situation, what
they are trying to accomplish, what seems to be getting in their way,
and what they are feeling. In doing so I not only focus on the difficulty
of the situation, but also on the ways in which the learners produced
behaviors which contradict their own intentions (i.e. producing guilt-anxiety).
The next step is demonstrating specific behaviors for testing out, or
"negotiating", their reality image with the subordinate and
encouraging them to role play these behaviors as well.
This exercise can be extremely uncomfortable and threatening
because it involves putting their competence on the line and experiencing
failure. I try to induce psychological safety by openly stating that the
purpose of the exercise is to give them an opportunity to experience the
skid (a form of failure). In addition I frame the exercise as an opportunity
to reflect on and learn from the skid rather than as a test of their competence.
I try to slow down the action and make every difficulty an opportunity
for open inquiry. In role playing alternatives I attempt to coach participants
so that they experience success (albeit little ones). Finally I provide
concepts and a theory (Model I and Model II) for making sense of the difficulties
and for redesigning reasoning and behavior.
SKILLS OF INQUIRY AND DESIGN
When trying to help others deal with a complex problem,
many learners attempt to practice inquiry by asking the case writer for
information or "yes-no" questions, or by stating their ideas
about the problem in the form of a question. These strategies are based
upon a tacit assumption that one needs to understand the problem or know
the solution in order to help. However, inquiry, at least in the Deweyian
sense (1938), begins with genuine doubt and moves towards a resolution
of that doubt. In such a situation inquiry requires seeing the situation
as a puzzle and appreciating the uncertainty and ambiguity. This skill
of "unknowing" critical for generating a reflective dialogue
in which the participants play with the materials of a situation in order
to make sense and design experiments to test their understandings.
In order to facilitate inquiry I use personal cases which
learners write from their own experience. Participants learn by having
their own cases discussed in the group and they also have an opportunity
to practice inquiry and other skills of reflection by acting as consultants
to each other. As we work through the cases, I try to move the analysis
through the full cycle from reflection to redesigning action while at
the same time helping participants craft and reflect on their strategies
for helping each other. As learners become more competent and skills of
reflection becomes a more natural part of their repertoire, they take
on more responsibility for designing the learning itself.
Because it is artistry, reflective practice cannot be reduced
to a set of techniques that can be mastered and applied. Anyone who has
observed Don Schön and Chris Argyris (or their students) knows that
the artistry of reflection takes very different forms in practice. However,
structure and technique can provide learners with "scaffolding"
to support them while they develop their own artistry. Once learners have
reached a level of mastery, the scaffolding of technique can be removed.
Since different people learn in different ways, it is important for teachers
of reflective practice to treat each new workshop as an experiment. Making
our theories explicit and engaging in a dialogue about their experiments
will hopefully make mastery of reflection continually less mysterious.
Argyris, C. (1982). Reasoning, Learning, and action: Individual
and organizational. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dewey, J. (1938). Logic: The theory of inquiry New York:
Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Friedman. V. & Lipshitz, R. (1992) Teaching people to
shift cognitive gears: Overcoming resistance on the road to Model II.
Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 28, 118-136.
Lewin, K.(1951). Field theory in social science. New York:
Harper & Row.
Schein, E. (1969). The mechanisms of change. In W.G. Bennis,
K.D. Benne, and R. Chin (Eds.). The planning of change (pp 98-108), New
York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practioner: How Professionals
Think in Action. New York: Basic Books.
Schön, D. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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