Article - We Do Not Learn From Experience… We Learn Reflecting On Experience

READ: 1 min AUTHOR: Robert Craven

The role of reflection is a powerful mechanism behind learning.

To learn how to run a better agency, you need to be able to reflect on what has worked and what has not.

This confirms the words of American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer John Dewey,

“We do not learn from experience…we learn reflecting on experience.”

This is an argument for you to spend more time reflecting. Much more time.


As evidence to support this approach, you should see Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning (Di Stefano, Gino, Pisano & Staats, 2016)

In this paper they ask,

  • How do humans learn?
  • Which learning source provides the highest benefits to future performance?
  • Should individuals seek to accumulate additional experience or should they focus on trying to articulate and codify the experience accumulated in the past?

They build on research on the microfoundations of strategy and learning processes to study the individual underpinnings of organisational learning.

They argue that once an individual has accumulated a certain amount of experience with a task, the benefit of accumulating additional experience is inferior to the benefit of deliberately articulating and codifying the experience accumulated in the past.

They go on to explain the superior performance outcomes associated with such deliberate learning efforts. They do this by using both a cognitive (improved task understanding) and an emotional (increased self-efficacy) mechanism.

I will close with a quote from Confucius –

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."

This supports a reflective approach to developing your skills at running an agency.

For this you should also see the Inner Game of Work (WT Gallwey):

Where he suggests -

P = p – i

(Performance = Potential Minus Interference)

As a consequence, we need to understand what is causing the interference.

The majority of the interference is the monkey on your shoulder, your twitchy alter ego that undermines your best efforts….

His approach can be summarised in three words:

  • Awareness
    Non-judgmental awareness enables one to see what does and what does not work.
  • Trust
    Trust in your self gives you confidence in your actions and your decisions (so get rid of that voice in the back of your head!)
  • Choice
    Choice enables you to decide what you need to work on (and why).


Gallwey’s approach suggests that we, as entrepreneurs, probably know the answers already. We just need someone or something to help us extract it.


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