Can Americans Reflect at Work?

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.


The practice of reflection or hansei is a Confucian legacy that is alive and well today in Japan’s best companies.

There was a time when I believed hansei was an institutionalized business practice exclusive to corporate Japan. The notion that American employees could ever publicly fess up to personal weaknesses and commit to improving seemed far-fetched at best. Corporate America is not a friendly place to bare one’s soul.

But upon personal reflection and a growing track record of successful “Reflection Workshops” with Americans (this is my most popular cross-cultural program), it turns out that reflection in the American workplace is not such an outlandish idea after all. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise considering the number of Americans who go to church every Sunday to (presumably) reflect, pay homage to a higher being, and strive to be better people. The practice of reflection has widespread value and appeal within the context of America’s spiritual traditions. But it is also a dormant value waiting to be tapped in the American workplace.

The issue then, is not whether Americans can reflect; it’s how to get them to do it in a work setting. The good news is that if approached in a culturally sensitive way, it is possible for leaders to provide the conditions that inspire employees to continuously tap into the power of reflection. Stay tuned for a series of posts that outline the most important conditions for developing and nurturing a reflective workforce.

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2008


One response to “Can Americans Reflect at Work?

  1. I’d be happy to just have a job where I had the chance to reflect.

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