Being Agile #4 – Why #weeknotes work – Reflective Practice

Learning is a horribly unpleasant thing.  In most corporate contexts it is conflated with the delivery of training.

Learning cannot be delivered.

As soon as one uses the concept of delivery in relation to learning, it stops being learning and becomes training.  Training is a terrible concept in which acts of education are perpetrated upon a group of people who have learned how to be successfully trained.  That means that they know how to humour the trainer and leave with their pre-existing values and ideas intact so that take away the minimum of actionable quick wins possible without engaging deeply in the training materials where possible.

Learning is hard.

I wrote about it many years ago in a post called Learning Stinks.  Learning something means going through the process of accepting that your knowledge is deficient in some way and taking onboard new concepts.  It then requires the application of those concepts often enough to ensure that the concept is moved from the surface of your memory and into the deep part of your memory.  I won’t bore you with all the details but accepting that you don’t know something and then recognising the reptilian phobic response to the discomfort of not knowing that thing (which is why people often clutch handouts and utter the baleful learners’ cry “just tell me what I need to do…..!”) is the start.  Your brain then requires you to enhance your existing schema (the kind of deep pathways burned in the brain that become instinct) to accommodate the new knowledge.  That is also difficult and required work and repetition.  The best teachers can add motivation to that process by the way they inspire us, but mostly it’s an act of will.

Learning is a way of being.

In UX we are mostly self teaching, In every phase of a project from Discovery through to live, we put ourselves into situations of not knowing and hope to reach a state of knowing more than we did, we are on voyages of perpetual discovery.

The process every UX professional I have ever met, particularly Researchers, live this process every day.  As we grow in our careers we improve our practice by looking back and comparing it to our prior experience and that of others.  This is called Reflective Practice.  It is essentially the basis of the learning model of an apprentice in the last century.  Dewey, (not be confused with his delinquent cousins Huey and Louis) was an educational theorist at in the late 19th and early 20th Century.  He suggested that learning wasn’t just about instruction but also about the lived experience of the student, where watching a Master of their craft and observing what they did was a more powerful combination than instruction alone.  This is Reflective Practice. It is not the final destination of a self actuated human being. It is about knowledge acquisition, it is too passive a concept to best define the learning of UXers.

This brings me to my next theorist, who was introduced to me by the magnificent Oliver Quinlan, (one of the people who has had the most influence on my life); Paulo Freire. I am not, honestly, bright enough to understand his thinking by myself, but Oliver is and his article here explains it perfectly.

Freire effectively said the Reflective Practice is was pointless unless it led to change in Practice.  The danger of Reflective Practice is that it can become an exercise in navel gazing and self obsession, because there is no imperative to act upon the new learning. Freire coined the concept of Praxis:

The knowing application of prior experience and deep knowledge of the theories behind your field, so that your actions become better informed – responsive rather than reactive. 

I guess that you could describe Praxis as the route to wisdom.

Here are the stages to achieving an attitude of Reflexive Practice:

  1. Guess work.
  2. Reflection + Reading
  3. Informed practice
  4. Experience and Informed Practice
  5. Praxis – knowing, deliberate, mindful practice.

The best outworking I have seen of Praxis in a UX setting is the early exponents #weeknotes movement.

This process is essentially blogging with a purpose.  The concept is to take some time out of your week to document the following:

  1. What you did
  2. How it was different to the way you did it before, as a consequence of what you learned since your last blog,
  3. What you have learned since your last blog
  4. How you plan to act upon that learning.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is a news update.  It is you documenting your thinking.

Some people find it helpful to write publicly because they will most likely receive feedback which they can act upon.  But – beware the commercial confidentialities of doing this.  There is nothing to prevent you from doing something internally with some colleagues.  This is quite closely aligned with the idea of Quadblogging, first encountered around 2010 by David Deputy Mitchell, he was amongst the first to notice the impact that having an audience had upon a writer, effectively the reward of receiving feedback motivates the writer to keep writing.

The act of writing is more impactful upon learning than talking, which is easier and requires less effort, when we talk, we refine our thinking as we go, but writing places the imperative to organise your thinking to make sense at first glance.  This is one of the processes that burns the schema deeper into your brain.  So writing is not compulsory to become a reflective practitioner – it just stacks the odds in your favour.

If you would like to develop a sustainable culture of Praxis in your team, the easiest way in is to establish a #weeknotes channel on slack and all commit to write a brief post with the following headings, or your own version…..remember there must be a so what? element…..”you’ve thought all this stuff and read all this stuff…what difference has it made?”

  • What I did last week
  • What I would have done differently
  • Something I’ve read
  • What I’m going to try this week.

Some colleagues may step out into the brave world of public weeknotes, but the slack channel, provided everyone commits to writing a thoughtful entry and to read and perhaps comment on the posts of others, a powerful way to share learning across the team, it also helps managers to understand who is moving forwards efffectively in their UX practice.

If you would like to to talk about this with your team or at an event you are running – you can find me on linked in and twitter.

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