“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey
I am an entrepreneur and I coach a lot of entrepreneurs. In coaching, I have discovered that an area that seems to be a consistent ‘weak link’ in an entrepreneur’s skill set is that of assessing their business, which requires a skill of reflection. I have always been a strong observer and reflector, two gifts of introversion! Even though these skills came naturally to me, I still needed to learn to be intentional about using them to assess my business.
Reflection, simply put is thinking about or ‘reflecting’ on what you did, how you were being or what happened. Whether you are self reflecting or reflecting on your business, the way to glean value from your life/business experience is to reflect on it!
I have learned it takes equal parts of knowing, being and doing to make my business happen. Once I was up and running, I wanted to progress and learn from my experience. I tried my hand at a number of ‘new business models’, which helped to guide me. However, even though I had wonderful models to follow, no one else is me or has my unique set of strengths and weaknesses. I learned it is important to learn from our own experience and not base all our learning on someone else’s experience.
As John Dewey says in the above quote, in order to use experience as a true teacher in life, it is important to know how to practice reflective exercises. Reflection takes the experience beyond face value where we may get caught in our reactive default settings. There is reflection that keeps us stuck and reflection that moves us forward. Reflection that keeps us stuck is when we are telling the story over and over and making someone wrong in it. We are focused on judgment! If we want to move forward, it is important to start the reflection and remove the judgment.
I started looking at my business objectively by using the “What, So What, Now What” method. When I look at the “What”, I am sticking to the black and white, the facts. I get clear on who or what is involved. For instance, if you were doing a quarterly assessment on your business, you may look at your tracking for sales, looking at the numbers for new clients/customers, your tracking for marketing and how many clients/customers came from what marketing, your tracking of finances. What did you spend money on, was there a return on investment, where did you overspend, are you meeting your financial goals? Numbers tell a story so during the “What” stage you are beginning with the objective reflection on the numbers. If you are reflecting on a specific situation, such as conflict with a customer, stick to the facts and create an outline in order of what has happened. Again, the “What” stage is all about objectivity.
During the “So What” stage, I can subjectively attach meaning to the objective data. What does it mean to me? What is the story the numbers are trying to tell me? Where are there missing pieces? I found that this was the stage to also get perspective by asking others what the numbers or facts of the situation meant to them. When you allow for others’ perspectives, it expands your capacity to find possibilities, opportunities or solutions.
And finally I arrive at the “Now What” stage. This is when I put my objective and subjective assessment into learning. Keeping the learning in context to the bigger picture of my business as a whole, there are two questions I like to ask myself, as well as my coaching clients, when assessing their business:
- What learning will you take forward? Perhaps a new habit, a new routine, a new way of being or an uncovered value.
- What will you let go of? Perhaps an old thought pattern, a marketing or financial mistake or a belief system that is not supporting your business?
I have found the “What, So What and Now What” structure is a great way to assess my business on a quarterly basis. It not only allows me to keep on the pulse of my business, it also allows me a structure to track my decision making process.
When I do my year-end assessment, using my quarterly What/So What/Now What trackers, I like to look at the year’s business positives and affirm the decisions that got me there. Then I look at the year’s negatives and ask two questions:
- What Can I Change?
- What Am I Willing to Change?
Once I get clear on changes I want to make, I list the learnings that brought me to this point in order to ground them. I always like to end the year, in business and life, on a foot of gratitude and learning.
I would venture to say that I believe assessment is one of the most valuable business practices that you can incorporate into your business systems. Make it a habit and you will keep yourself on the path of business development and growth.