Reflection: A Tool You Need

With another 31st December rolling on by Covisory turned 10 years old. Over the holidays my youngest 20+ child quizzed me on whether I had any resolutions for 2017. This led to some interesting conversations on the concept of reflection.

I’m not one of those people who each year makes resolutions. I freely admit that the cynic in me watches to see how long the resolutions of others will last in the coming year. We all know the routine firstly you fall for the line that it’s a new year so you need to make resolutions. You start with good intentions but as life encroaches, those resolutions either drift off into the too hard basket or are just forgotten.

These easy to make, on the spur of the moment, influenced by what is the latest trends are doomed to fail. Why? New Year Resolutions have on the most part no meaning. People expect to fail with them, there are no consequences on them if the result is not achieved.

Making resolutions is not the problem it is the built-in expectation to fail. If we live our business and personal lives without reflecting on our past experiences, we are bound to make the same mistakes. We cannot break through barriers by doing more of the same. Not only must we invest in action we also should work on deep and sustained reflection on an ongoing basis and not just once a year. Reflecting will not solve all the problems but it will help move you a tiny bit closer.

Let’s face it life is busy these days. We are all guilty of spending a lot of our time chasing the immediate reward, the near-term “goal” — in short, the expedient and the convenient. We are all obsessed with doing. What we are not so good at is stopping and taking a hard look at Why and What we are doing. Reflection may be a tool talked about in education but there is little application when we move into the workforce. Why not – are we afraid of what we will find?

If a business is not doing well it is easier to cast blame for problems on difficult customers or an investor. Alternatively, maybe we look to blame the government bodies regulating the industry, or competitors and who hasn’t blamed the computer or an application for our failures? We do not automatically ask in a situation what am I doing wrong or right? How could I improve? Our culture allows us to avoid personal responsibility – we are guilty of not owning problems or to finding ways to solve them.

If we do not take time out of our week, month or year to make room for the deep questions and thinking we fail to grow. We opt for the distracting items that fill our time. It is not about working harder. We need to work smarter and this means having the time for reflection so that we can make changes and improve on past performance.

Breakthroughs to a product, a company, a market or industry do not come from being busy and jumping between multiple tasks. Change comes from an opportunity to have structured periods of reflection. We need time to ponder, to question, to model, and to research. Reflection drives experimentation and sparks innovation. By reviewing the processes and results we add to our understanding, gain insight and allow companies to respond to change. By taking the opportunity to reflect we can make our businesses radically better.

In today’s culture, we as individuals and businesses are engineered to Do, we have not been encouraged to reflect. To add reflection to our lives allows us to embed concepts and theories into our practices. It fosters constant thought and innovation that provides the means to allow us to grow as both individuals and professionals.

Within Covisory ‘Reflection’ is a core component of how we operate both internally and when we work with customers. If you need assistance, we are always happy to support you with this process. Please Contact Us. With a new year before us let 2017 be the year to not only learn from our experiences but regularly reflect on those experiences.

I will leave you with the words of Margaret J. Wheatley an American writer and management consultant:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

And Now for Something Completely Different…

My personal resonance with the above statement conjures up images of a goose-stepping John Cleese, one of the hilariously gifted Monty Python members and a skit entitled ‘The Funniest Joke in the World’. The joke was so funny that it was deadly. It ended up used as a weapon delivered across enemy lines by khaki-clad foot soldiers.

There are those reading this that will resonate with me – maybe a chuckle or two for old times’ sake. There are those who will have no resonance at all – either through a disregard for Monty Python’s slapstick humour or of an age where Monty Python is a reference accessed on You Tube.

It would not take Sherlock Holmes to determine that the author of this article is in the 50+ age bracket. As an age group, we should be applauded for surviving and prospering through 3 decades of unparalleled transformation and change. While empathy is scant from our finger tapping Facebook using Twitter communicating 20+ children the evidence of change is mind blowing.

My first steps in the noble profession of accounting were in the employ of a small accounting and audit firm in Oxford Circus in London. Computers were largely non-existent. Accounting was done through the manual entry of relevant numbers in aesthetically pleasing leather bound ledger books. These books were works of art. The first days of any new job were spent extrapolating the numbers from the ledger on to 8 column stationery. You became skilled in identifying where your Trial Balance didn’t balance. Gaining a thorough understanding of double entry and the picture the numbers were creating.

A particular memory was of a practitioner called Harry. Harry seemed ancient to us being in the 50+ age bracket back then. He only had one suit; identifiable by the biscuit stains that permeated the left lapel of the cross thread tweed. Harry looked after all the Chinese restaurants. The records arrived in boxes and in Chinese. He translated them to double entry and English. He delivered an accounting story that was accepted by the Revenue authorities. He was a skilled professional and worth a fortune to his clients. Harry made me realise that our noble profession is more about artistry and interpretation than computation and certainty.

From the leather bound ledgers of not so long ago to where we are today. Memories of collecting information in strict sequence to be delivered to a computational beast that took the place of balancing the Trial Balance. Moving onto the first laptop, the floppy disk (what happened to them?), the internet to cloud-based accounting packages like Xero. The way we do things has inextricably changed for the better. Making a trial balance was numerically satisfying but a poor and expensive use of human resource.

The art of accounting has not changed. At a fundamental level accounting is about the concepts of communication and value. Conventions have been developed to try and standardise how we communicate the interpretation of value. But it can never entirely succeed, it can never be standard. In fact, it is arguable that this standardisation has made things less understandable not more.

Value is dictated by circumstance. A major asset in your balance sheet can easily become a major threat to your business e.g. a large debtor develops financial problems. Business is done through the interaction of human beings using the language of money measured by numbers. It is not the compilation of the numbers that is important but the interpretation. It is being able to communicate well the business story the numbers are telling. Technology is doing the compiling to allow us to do the interpreting.

You cannot separate numbers from the human aspects of operating a business. We come in all shapes, sizes, personalities, belief systems and values. Human beings will never come standard. Over the years there have been many theoretically valid generic products that have failed due to the human element. The most valuable professionals engender trust through values of integrity and objectivity. They understand and relate on a human level while communicating their skills.

I have no doubt that Harry would be as valuable today as he was in his day. His thorough understanding and personal skills would just be engaged more productively. If we could bring Harry back, he would probably think that this modern day way of carrying on was nothing more than ‘The Funniest Joke in the World’….