When in Doubt, Pause, Reflect, Act

‘Don’t just do something. Stand there.’ (White Rabbit – Alice in Wonderland)

It was 1 hour before the workshop was due to start and we discovered the room had been double-booked. With delegates due to arrive at any moment, the pressure and risk was to spring into action to solve this.

Suddenly, I remembered the simple yet profound words of a girl in the Philippines: ‘First, pray’. So I paused, prayed, finished my cup of tea (I’m British) then walked calmly to the foyer. The manager appeared: ‘I’ve found you a fantastic alternative room at a nearby conference venue.’

On another occasion, a team meeting was due to start but the leader had been held up elsewhere. He arrived late and saw the anxious gazes of team members at the already packed-full agenda. The risk and temptation was to race through the items at breakneck speed.

Instead, he paused, took a deep breath and encouraged others to do the same. Then, he turned the agenda upside down on the table. ‘What, for us, would be a great use of the time we have available?’ Sighs of relief could be heard all round.

There’s a question, an idea, a principle here that applies in Action Learning too. Guy Rothwell calls it ‘Space and Pace’: discerning and deciding when to pause (pray) and when to leap.

Pause too long and you may miss the opportunity, allow issues to escalate or frustrate others who need decisions or actions from you. Leap too soon and you may miss wiser options, fail to notice important implications or deprive others of creating better solutions. It’s about creating an optimal pause.

So, this is what it looks like in Action Learning. In an action learning set, a small group of peers meets from time to time in the midst of ordinary business – or extraordinary business if needed.

It creates a structured opportunity to pose and receive questions that enable critical reflection. Such questions stimulate creative thinking when people get stuck or feel under pressure to act but don’t quite know what to do next.

The process prompts innovative action where fresh solutions are needed and is a valuable resource for empowering individuals when they feel most challenged.

Action Learning: Pause, Reflect, Act. Learning in action, action in learning.

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