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Using effective reflection to improve your performance

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Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.[1]
Albert Einstein


I believe strongly in the value of deliberately reviewing personal performance – on a regular basis – and reflecting on things that went well and should be repeated, things that should not be repeated and things that should be done differently in future. My “Portfolio Work Life” of business school teaching, project supervision and consulting can easily “crowd-out” time to think in this way but in each week I do my best to devote some quality time to such reflections.

My last week has been rather different to most as I taught full time on an MBA Strategy Systems and Operations Course (rather than teaching on just one day) and on Saturday I had my annual race on my Brompton folding bicycle. My reflections start with an application of Steve Covey’s thinking “First things First”.  I review the time consuming activities I have undertaken in the last week and consider whether each was urgent and whether each was important.  (As I record my time on my major activities using a time recording application on my iPhone, I use this for my review. ).

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My first insight is that my time was devoted to activities that were important and most of them also were urgent. Sadly, the urgent and important prevented me from undertaking a Brompton Race Training run. On a positive point, it was urgent and important work that prevented me from doing this rather than any non-urgent tasks. Going into the week, I knew I was going to be busy so I had avoided committing to any activity that was not important.

 

The two proposals were delivered in a timely manner and whilst it is too early to know whether either will result in work, I have had confirmation that both are being actively considered.  As both were of high importance and urgent, they were completed quickly and would have benefitted from greater contemplation. In both cases I was able to use “assets” that had been developed when I was less busy – at the time they were developed they would have been in the important but not urgent quadrant – or perhaps the not important & not urgent quadrant because the business need for them was unproven. As the “investment” of time in producing these assets has proved worthwhile, I will think about other materials and lessons from previous engagements that I can spend time on refining and then adding to my quick-to-reference library.

Looking back on the week of teaching 3 main reflections were that:

  • The integrated course content worked. Giving attention to systems and operations factors in addition to pure strategy enabled a greater emphasis on strategy that can be delivered. Moreover the systems and operations elements of the course were better grounded in the strategic needs and themes of the given organisation. This reinforced my personal point of view that Business Schools are at their best when they integrate topics since our students’ worlds are joined up! I will air this perspective with more confidence in future.
  • Practical examples to illustrate key points of theory using current business issues in the news and practical stories from my previous experience resonated better with the students then the case study examples in the core text books. Before delivering this type of course again, it would be helpful to think through in advance “stories” based on relevant experience that crossed Strategy, Systems and Operations and ideally ones that are related to the industries represented amongst the students.
  • Prior to the week I had some concerns about my personal stamina. I was conscious that my usual schedule of single days of teaching and two or three day executive workshops combined with more desk bound activities created less physical demands. Whilst by Friday afternoon I was certainly tired, I sensed that I had been able to inject as much energy into the content and discussions that afternoon as I had early in the week. In future, I will be readier to accept full 5-day teaching engagements (provided that they can be integrated into the other components of my portfolio).

Activity that did not make it onto my schedule for last week, included, this Blog, work on the next edition of my Strattomics Book, as much reading as I would like and sailing one of our dinghies.

Having ruminated on my week I sense that the Brompton race is the activity in my week where I have the most potential for improvement so I will focus the remainder of this Blog on that.

The Brompton World Championships is a 17KM race in London comprising Laps around St James Park. The 500 competitors have a classic Le Mans style start and run across the track to their folded bikes. After unfolding their bikes they set off up the Mall towards Buckingham Palace. The race finishes when the first racer completes 8 laps. The time for other racers is measured the next time they cross the start-finish line.

After my 2015 race, I decided that the key thing to do differently in 2016 was to train more. I have a 17-KM training route that allows me to pedal fast with minimum stops. The training route is however more undulating than the race course, so there are downhill sections where one has more of a recovery period than during the race. This year I completed the training route four times rather than twice so I did meet my training objective; however, due to the Business School commitments there was a greater gap between my final training ride and the race. I also noted last year that I should endeavour to cycle the first lap considerably faster. Reflecting further on last year’s race, I sensed that I needed more data on my performance in sections of the race. I therefore decided to wear my Apple Watch and carry my iPhone in the race this year.

This year, my lap 1 time of 3.45 minutes was as fast as I think I am capable of. The subsequent Lap times were 4.14, 4.14, 4.10, 4.24, 4.23 and 4.15. The final 4.15 lap did not count as it was after the race formally stopped. As the race stops when the winner completes 8 laps it is critical for me to avoid being lapped twice by the “professional” racers, so my preferred tactic is going to be to focus extra effort on speed in laps 4 and 5 i.e. from approx. 8 to 12 KM. After that the die in practice is set, because I will be out of the race if lapped twice. My plan is to adjust my training plan so that I cycle faster, for that period of my training runs, rather than endeavour to pace myself over the full distance. Watching the race video I could see that I am not pedalling as fast as others so next year I am going to train on a cycle trainer with a focus on pedalling faster and then be ready to use a lower gear for sections of the race.

I am convinced that I need to complete more and better training before the race next year if I am to materially improve on my time; however, I also want to look to other areas to capture, in the words of Sir David Brailsford (The Sky Cycling Team Principal), Marginal Gains.

Marginal gains mean looking at all the things we do, and never assuming we couldn’t do them better. [2]

These same principles, including in particular the appropriate use of data, are most pertinent to most business activities. I develop this theme further in my eBook Strattomics – Continuous Improvement.

Observing others on the day and in the post race videos, I think that slick tyres, clip pedals and possibly a longer seat pillar are sources of, at least, marginal gains. It appears that my model of the Brompton with its S shaped handlebars is unpopular for racing; however, I cannot justify a new bike!

I would love to help you reflect on your business activities and help you use data and more robust thinking to improve you business performance. Please contact me via the contact form below or follow me on Twitter @efficienarta OR @huw_morris

I hope you gain positive business benefit from your reflections.

Huw

 

 

[1] Source: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins133991.html

[2] Quoted by Alastair Campbell in his book “Winners and How they Succeed” Hutchinson, Randon House, 2015

 

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