Reflexive Practice: Professional Thinking for a Turbulent World

Hardcover | September 15, 2010

byKent C. Myers, Kent C Myers

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Rapid social change requires that major institutions adapt.  Management professionals who are called in to help presumably know what to do, but in fact their typical ways of working are anachronistic.  Many professionals tacitly assume stability and a level of knowledge that no longer exists.  They devise change programs that, while consistent with cultural expectations and professional standards, are flawed from the start and may actually reduce institutional capacity to adapt.  Their practices and culture were developed for a different time and are ill-suited to fluid and highly interconnected situations.  The very people who are relied upon for adaptive solutions are preventing what they should be providing.

Weaknesses of four familiar patterns of professional thinking are reviewed.  Each puts society at risk:

· a rational pattern locks in optimal solutions that rapidly become obsolete

· a focused pattern is blind to reconfiguration options and the influence of external relationships

· a principled pattern fails to apprehend and develop the unique opportunities of a situation

· a interested pattern undercuts common interests that are already imperiled

An ominous feature of these at-risk patterns is the lack of awareness of limitations or of how the professional is included within the problematic situations to be addressed.

A different pattern is described – reflexive practice – that takes turbulence seriously and does not make convenient, traditional, and incorrect assumptions about stability, certainty, and the capacity of the professional for insight, foresight, and separation from the problem.  These practitioners promote adaptive strategies appropriate for turbulent situations.  Distinguishing features of these strategies include rapid generation and pruning of options, building capacity and readiness for continuous modification and reconfiguration, a greater comprehension of external changes, and reliance on mutual interaction through networks across boundaries. 

Examples of reflexive practice, and the contrasting failures of at-risk practices, are traced through domains where the need for adaptation is acute – in national security, economics, energy, and environment.  Personal characteristics and education of the reflexive practitioner are examined in greater detail.  A simple survey of guests on C-SPAN illustrates the prevalence of the various types and their difference.   

Reflexive practice is the most appropriate pattern for thinking and action for management professionals under current conditions, and in particular when devising responses to global threats.  The thinking pattern remains fallible, however, and will often violate standards and appear weak in comparison with other types.  This condition will persist until professional cultures themselves become adapted to the times.

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Rapid social change requires that major institutions adapt.  Management professionals who are called in to help presumably know what to do, but in fact their typical ways of working are anachronistic.  Many professionals tacitly assume stability and a level of knowledge that no longer exists.  They devise change programs that, while co...

Kent C. Myers is a strategist with Booz Allen Hamilton, consultants to government and business.  He has a PhD in Social Systems Sciences, Wharton School.  He currently supports transformation efforts in the intelligence community.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:264 pages, 8.31 × 5.74 × 0.8 inPublished:September 15, 2010Publisher:Palgrave MacmillanLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0230103944

ISBN - 13:9780230103948

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Table of Contents

Preface * Turbulent Environment * Reflexive Practice * At-Risk Practices * DOMAINS * Intelligence for Security * Economy and Polity * Energy * Environment * RELATIONS * Reflexive Personality * Global Fields * Education * Global Scenario * APPENDIXES * C-Span Study * Bibliography * Index

Editorial Reviews

“An important book which illuminates, with practical and readable lessons, the path to top performance.”—Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business, University of Southern California and author of Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership"A quiet but powerful critique of professions and professional education, with a glimpse of how experts could participate in open and engaged dialogue and actually help us adapt our way through today's crisis." —Carol R. Hunter, Associate University Librarian, University of Virginia