The SEI Dock Model
Pillar VI: Reflection
Twice a year, Bill Gates disconnects from reality in order to reconnect with (and redefine) his goals. During each one-week break, Gates travels into the woods of the Pacific Northwest where he dives into papers written by the Microsoft community. He scribbles notes, maps out ideas, and writes summaries for executives. There are no interruptions (besides a caretaker who provides two meals per day and a steady stream of Diet Orange Crush), no employees, friends, or family to accompany Bill; even his wife stays at home. This is a time of deep thought, reflection, and goal creation, and has been responsible for many Microsoft innovations.
In a 2005 article published in the Wall Street Journal, Gates shared his long-time corporate secret, and it has since made waves in the IT and business communities. Michael Karnjanaprakorn, CEO and Co-Founder of Skillshare, has adopted this practice. In an article for Fast Company, he said, “For each ‘Think Week,’ I create a life to-do list, do a lot of research, and think through big ideas and challenges deeply. Going through this process has been enlightening.” Setting aside time for reflection is becoming more popular. Some teams and corporations have a time block each Friday afternoon where no meetings can be scheduled. The team or company encourage their employees to use this time to tie up loose ends before the weekend and reflect on the week.
Reflection is important as it is a necessary component for goal creation and goal revision. It provides a moment to pause and focus to ensure you are on course with your targeted goal. While you do this, you may realize that your priorities have changed; this is an important and honest realization as it allows you to set a new course and keep traveling full speed ahead.
Below, I have gathered four important takeaways for making a “Think” session successful. Keep in mind that you can also use reflection as part of your daily or weekly routine. Instead of letting things pile up and laying low for a week at a time every six months, you may find it more manageable to set aside time every Friday afternoon or Monday morning to reconnect with your goals and check your sights.
1) Spend Some Time Alone
“We come from a generation of people who need their TV or stereo playing all the time. These people so scared of silence. These soundaholics, these quietophobics.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby
Shut your door, turn off all technology, and find a space to concentrate free from distraction.
When was the last time you set time aside to think? Can you remember what it was like to be bored? It doesn’t happen anymore. The more technology we have, the more noise we have, and the harder it is to find a quiet space to be alone with our thoughts. Silence (and ambient sounds for some) is important. Quiet time alone allows us to recharge mentally. You will be able to have a true and honest assessment of what you need to work on to achieve your set goals because you will be able to better put your life in perspective.
Schedule one hour a week for this time. Write it into your day planner and take it seriously. During this time, feel free to take out a pen and a notebook, but keep it low tech. Use this time to think about how your projects are coming along. Ask yourself: what is going well and what can I do better. Take some deep breaths and jump out of the timeline of your life. After you finish tinkering around with the past (information gathering) and the future (setting goals) jump back into your present life with a renewed sense of self. During the middle or end of the week, this may be just the thing you need to charge your batteries and make it through to the weekend.
2) Information Gathering and Strategy Development
As you are scanning news sites and social media feeds, favorite links to articles and blogs you want to read when you have more time and file them in a favorites folder explicitly for these types of links (the application Zotero is a good tool to use to do this). I also suggest you keeping a list of books you want to read. Use an application/website like Goodreads to track the books you have read, are currently reading, and want to read. Tracking my reading in this app helps me recall books I have read and find books I should be reading.
As you work through this “stack” of articles and books, be sure to make notes of the key takeaways. I use post-it notes as a placeholder next to key text and write the information nugget directly on the post-it. For web articles, copy the quotable text along with a few keywords or bullet points and paste it into a text document or OneNote (remember to note where the information is from). As mentioned above, Zotero is a good tool to use for electronic text. If you have a long reading list, you may want to invest time learning some speed reading tricks. Audiobooks can help too.
Reflecting on the news and developments in your industry is important for you as you make progress on your goals. Take time each week to catch up on the “going-ons” so you know if something has changed, and how it affects you. Use this is a time to scan your field for new information, create goals, and come up with a strategy to achieve them.
3) Journaling/ Record Keeping
What did you have for dinner two weeks ago Thursday?
Humans are a forgetful species. I’ve been in many important conversations where my brain is screaming Yes! Yes! This is it! The missing gap between the dissonant chords that has been plaguing me for weeks! Only to walk away, forgetting nearly everything we talked about except a vague sensation of loss and wonder.
We are not stupid; we are forgetful, distracted, and over-stimulated. All of my mentors carry a small notebook with them to take notes and track their day. If the word “journal” reminds you too much of elementary school or your grandmother, feel free to call it something else. What you are doing is tracking your progress so you will be able to see the changes. Most change is gradual and happens over time; it’s usually not visible day to day, but it becomes clearer week to week and month to month. Every couple of weeks, read the journal and see if a theme arises; look closely and usually a pattern will appear. Use this information to track your goals and change your behavior to get yourself back on point.
4) Talk with Friends and Mentors
After your think week/think weekend/think day/think hour is over, reach out to mentors, colleagues, and friends to bounce off the ideas you came up with while you were alone. Something I have learned over the years is that all ideas are important: even imperfect ones because they help you reach better conclusions.
Connect with a friend, mentor, or both regularly. I have found that a weekly or monthly basis works well, insofar as it is consistent. These people will help you put your life and your goals in context. It’s the old saying: if you were to see a clone of yourself on the street, would you recognize yourself? These people will be the mirror for places and things you cannot see. With their input, you will be able to better craft your plan ahead.
Reflection in the SEI Dock Model
Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghosts live on the reflection pillar.
In the reflection pillar, you are standing at your dock with the open water behind you as you look at the other pillars: health, practice, and play. You are able to take in the full spectrum of your day to day life, watching how each piece moves and interacts with it’s neighbor. Take a moment to think about your goals and where you want to be. What are your priorities? Where have you been, where are you going, and do you have the tools to get there?
The final installment of the SEI Dock Model will be released on October 30, 2015. See you then!
If you missed any of the previous weeks, follow the links below:
Week 1: SEI Dock Model: Introduction
Week 2: SEI Dock Model: Pillar I, Health
Week 4: SEI Dock Model, Pillar III: Play
Andrew J. Wilt
SEI Junior Consultant