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Jurgen Appelo calls himself a creative networker. But sometimes he's a writer, speaker, trainer, entrepreneur, illustrator, manager, blogger, reader, dreamer, leader, freethinker, or… Dutch guy. Since 2008 Jurgen writes a popular blog at, covering the creative economy, agile management, and personal development. He is the author of the book Management 3.0, which describes the role of the manager in agile organizations. And he wrote the little book How to Change the World, which describes a supermodel for change management. Jurgen is CEO of the business network Happy Melly, and co-founder of the Agile Lean Europe network and the Stoos Network. He is also a speaker who is regularly invited to talk at business seminars and conferences around the world. After studying Software Engineering at the Delft University of Technology, and earning his Master’s degree in 1994, Jurgen Appelo has busied himself starting up and leading a variety of Dutch businesses, always in the position of team leader, manager, or executive. Jurgen has experience in leading a horde of 100 software developers, development managers, project managers, business consultants, service managers, and kangaroos, some of which he hired accidentally. Nowadays he works full-time managing the Happy Melly ecosystem, developing innovative courseware, books, and other types of original content. But sometimes Jurgen puts it all aside to spend time on his ever-growing collection of science fiction and fantasy literature, which he stacks in a self-designed book case. It is 4 meters high. Jurgen lives in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) -- and in Brussels (Belgium) -- with his partner Raoul. He has two kids, and an imaginary hamster called George. Jurgen has posted 145 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Reinventing Retrospectives

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I’ve having trouble with my retrospectives. And I’m not the only one. Maybe we should reinvent them.

Mirror Some months ago I wrote that continuous reflection should take place with everything you do. Each action should end in a reflection, so that you continuously improve your life and work.

The suggestion was simple enough. Like the suggestion to eat healthy. To love your spouse. And read Shakespeare.

But, despite my best intentions, I sometimes realize I haven’t consciously reflected on any of my activities for several days. Sometimes even weeks go by before I remember to force myself to think and reflect on what I’m doing.

Yes, I want to reflect and improve, but somehow the effort is pushed aside by all kinds thoughts about other things. And then I understand the many teams that forget about their retrospectives. The intention is there, but the activity gets lots because our attention is grabbed by other tasks and interesting diversions. French fries are nice. The spouse wants to go shopping. And Robert Jordan wrote more than Shakespeare.

What to do?


I’ve thought about self-improvement before, and wrote about the four steps to self-development:

  1. Understanding importance vs. urgency;
  2. Working on time management skills;
  3. Not forgetting to do what’s important;
  4. Keeping intrinsic motivation high.

I realize that, in many cases, number 3 is the problematic one. We already know retrospectives are important; finding time to do them is not that hard; and we feel sufficiently motivated to develop ourselves.

But why do we always forget?

A higher level of thinking

Maybe it’s because reflection requires the brain to switch to another level of thinking. Our brains are not naturally wired to do that. It’s much easier to start with the next activity when the previous one is completed. To go with the flow. It’s like taking a turn with your car and driving down the next street. And then the next. And the next. And the next. Until you’ve arrived in Amsterdam.

But reflection is comparable to stopping your car, getting out, checking the tires, checking the oil level, and wondering for a moment if your destination is actually still worth going to (which you really should reflect on if you are heading to Amsterdam). The effort of such a small reflection is negligible on the average trip from one place to another. But for your brain a reflection is like booting another operating system. It requires the brain to stop doing whatever it’s doing and to lift itself up to a whole new level of thinking.

Most people aren’t good at that.

(Except in some places in Amsterdam, but that’s another matter.)

Reinventing retrospectives

Maybe we should find better ways to reflect on our life and work. Maybe we should find ways to integrate the learning into our regular activities, much like Kanban integrates continuous improvement into the regular flow of work by applying self-imposed constraints. Thinking about improvements should not be a separate step that requires a reboot of the brain. It should be part of the activity itself.

I want to think and reflect on this some more.

Let’s hope I don’t forget.

(image by Michael Gil)

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Jurgen Appelo. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)



Mark Anthony replied on Fri, 2012/04/13 - 11:19am

Sticking with simple but hard to put in practice advices, mine is as follows:

"Do less!"

If you are an ambitious person that always striving for more and better, you are tempted to do more! Sometimes doing more, affects the quality, mostly in terms of lack retrospection and feedback tracking. How less should we do?! IMHO until we ain't forget anymore to retrospect or to collect feedback.
I've never keept agenda in more than 10 years of corporate activity. If your agenda it's something that your brain cannot handle, maybe it's not a wise thing to commit to that agenda after all.

The trick is to leverage well the "Do less!" and transform from plain lazy to the great idea of:
"Less is more!"

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