3x3 Reflection

a little background

The idea of the 3x3 Reflection came out of a discussion I had with Ward about practices that companies could use to better learn from valuable insights that arise when complex systems fail.

Both of our companies have complex systems and, despite best attempts, these systems unpredictably fail.

Unfortunately, far too often, the tendency of management is to "blame and shame" when there is a failure. That is, to try to identify who was responsible for the failure and to shame them for it. Knowing this response, individuals will often attempt to hide themselves and the reasons for the failure.

But this behavior does not allow the organization to learn from these failures. Each failure illuminates assumptions that have now been demonstrated to be false. By identifying these incorrect assumptions and then developing new supporting solutions, systems can become more resilient.

One practice of learning from these failures is to probe the problem by progressively asking about the reasons for failure, a technique called the Five Whys .

When Ward was explaining this concept to me, I wondered if we could use this same approach for the progressive exploration of insights. We developed the 3x3 Reflection and tested it in the follow-up interviews for the pilot of the Agile Partnership Program.

the format

The 3x3 Reflection uses a note-taking template that has three parts.

The first part captures the story of the experience.

The second part captures three insights that came from that experience.

And in the third part we asked ‘why’ three progressive times for each of the insights, capturing deeper insights each time.

The three whys for each insight make up a 3x3 matrix, the core of the 3x3 Reflection narrative.

the practice

After brief introductions, the person being interviewed is told they will be asked to provide a brief overview of their experience, identify three insights from it, and that those insights will be probed more deeply.

We would then jump in. While the story was being told, it was written in the story section on the template. Then the three insights were captured. We then would go back to the first one and ask why that was an insight. We would let the conversation flow, identifying keywords that had a particular emotional resonance. We would then take that word or phrase and asked them to explain the feeling further.

We repeat this process one more time, then go back to the second insight and then the third, following the same progressive exploration - always drilling into key emotional words or phrases.

Once we have completed the ninth and final cell in this matrix, we then share the document with the person who we are interviewing. We review it together, highlighting these keywords or phrases that shaped the interview.

In closing, we read those key words or phases in reverse order, from the last cell to the first. We then listen for their final impression of this interview experience.

the impact

Each time we used this practice it was a powerful experience, both for us and for the people we were interviewing.

Typically, before we started, the interviewee had only a vague sense that the experience was meaningful. But they didn't know why.

Through this interviewing practice, we were able to quickly identify and clarify the underlying meaning of these experiences. Experiences that were important for them, that had touched them more deeply. That touched their hearts and, indeed, their souls.

By walking together through each of the emotionally rich words and phrases, a connection of meaning becomes illuminated.

When reading it backwards, those connections become seen as a pattern. A pattern of meaning.

Empowering them as Meaning Makers.

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