The 7 Steps that Convert Experience into Insight
August 27, 2022
Critical Insight Group

Just over 8 years ago, I got a personal invitation from John Maxwell to join him as a founding partner in the launch of his international coaching organization. I jumped at the opportunity, (which honestly was a little out of character for me since it wasn’t part of the direction of my company at the time). I knew – okay, I was pretty sure – that it would be a great investment that would allow me to go much deeper and much further in my ability to develop highly effective leaders throughout my clients’ organizations. The investment of money and time, much of it evenings and weekends, has been tremendously rewarding and transformed how I develop leaders and leadership teams.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was just how much more I would learn about personal development, growth and success. And one of the most powerful activities I learned from John is the process for converting experience into insight.

Planning is certainly important for success, but the far more valuable (and far less understood) activity for personal success is reflectionYes, it’s reflection that turns experience into insight. Because without reflection – intentionally evaluating our experiences – experience is just, well, experience. (And against common belief, experience is not actually the best teacher, evaluated experience is.) It reminds me of the quote: “Practice [alone] doesn’t make perfect. It just makes permanent.”

Great coaches often become great because they are really good at making ‘halftime adjustments’. First, they critically observe what’s happening on the field. (The game plan is what they hoped would happen; not what is actually happening. So they must watch to see what is really going on.) At halftime they talk with their team about what they are seeing. Then they take what’s good, what’s working, and enhance it. And they take what’s not working and change it.

Exactly the same approach works for us, personally and as leaders. Here’s a model that supports the process. Since I’m sharing this at the start of July, seems like a logical time to do a ‘mid-year adjustment’ ourselves, doesn’t it?


The 7 steps to convert experience into insight.


1. Create Time to Reflect. (And schedule it into our routine.)

We have to make time for reflection. It’s not going just happen. (This is what most people miss.) We have to value reflection, then we’ll find time to do it. What we value is what we find time for. We should regularly schedule it into our calendars. Better yet, create the habit of reflection, of evaluation, as part of our routine (daily, weekly, quarterly, and annually).

Strong leaders ‘see more and before others see’ and that gives them the edge. Why? Because they take time to reflect and think. And that reflection turns experience into insight. And that insight is the ‘leader’s edge’.

The challenge is, as leaders, we like (to take) action. We want to be right in the middle of everything. But we lose the ‘leader’s edge’ if we don’t step back and take time to reflect. Reflection heightens our awareness – and that’s how we can see more and before. It is the separator between truly great leaders (and performers) and merely average ones.

3 Questions for reflection:

  • What do I feel? (intuition) – We need to understand the emotions involved.
  • What do I know? (the facts) – The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.
  • What do I think? (possibilities) – Good thinking always takes things to a higher level.

We should think on it until what we ‘feel’ and what we ‘know’ come together and make sense.  Thinking is the bridge between our feelings and the facts. (And some people never reconcile them. That’s because thinking requires time, and intention, so they just don’t ‘bother’.)

And it’s not ‘either or’; it’s ‘both and’. A leader needs both feelings and facts. People don’t want to follow a leader that has facts, but no intuition. Nor do that want to follow someone who has intuition (feelings), but no facts.

The best leaders make their heart and head work together.

One more point on thinking. Sustained thinking beats smart thinking every day! Because when smart people are done with a meeting, they are done thinking about it. They don’t reflect. They just move on to the next thing. When we take time to reflect, we give ourselves the opportunity to change and grow. And when we do so consistently we create the separation between ourselves and average.

We should plan to take time after each significant activity (client meeting, strategy session, performance conversation, operational meeting, etc.) to evaluate it. We should also create the habit to summarize our day, each day. (You’ll see why below.) Reflect on it. What did we do? What did we accomplish? (And that’s different than what we ‘did’. Activity doesn’t equal accomplishment.) What can we learn? What should we do differently? Ask the 3 questions above. Write down what you come up with at the time.


2. Get What We Need.

As we reflect, especially when we look back over a longer period of time, we should have two things in front of us.

  • Our calendars – they don’t lie; and this is where we can summarize our day.
  • A notebook – that contains our primary goals/objectives and our strengths/gifts (that we’re using to achieve our objectives). We shouldn’t have too many things we’re trying to accomplish. That will just dilute our attention.

Looking at our calendars, how many times did we use our strengths to achieve our objectives/vision? If we have frequent stretches where we aren’t doing what we’re best at with the intent of achieving our objectives we’ll need to notice it and write it down.


3. Review Our Activity.

When we review our calendars, we need to review all things! Both facts and observations. (This is why we want to summarize each day. It makes this step much easier.) Once we have all of our observations written down, we need to review them. First we can simple strike some, the obvious ones. They are usually just thoughts, but not worth action.  Then we prioritize them. We’ll highlight the ones that are profound or important. Then  redo the ‘strike and prioritize’ step to narrow down the list further. We’ll usually end up with a page of observations if we’re evaluating our activity over a significant period of time.


4. Reflect on Our Findings, Our Prioritized Observations.

Then we need to ask ourselves some valuable questions, such as:

  • What should we do less of, or eliminate all together?
  • What should we do more of, and embrace in our life?
  • Who should we share these findings with? (The reason – they’ll help us.)
  • What will we do to improve this?
  • What do we feel, what do we know, what do we think…?

These, and similar, questions provide us the information we need for the next two steps.


5. Make Important Discoveries.

This is the fun – and powerful – part. This is where we truly turn experience into insight. What can we learn, what can we discover, what reveals itself within our list of observations?

Some examples of what John has learned in his mid-year or annual reflection times include some of his most profound realizations. Including:

  • Everything rises and falls on leadership.
  • The true measure of leadership is influence; nothing more nothing less.
  • Activity doesn’t equal accomplishment.
  • Growth is not automatic.
  • The ‘book ends of success’ – all’s well that beginswell, all’s well that ends
  • Reflection turns experience into insight.
  • The fastest doesn’t win, its’ the person that starts first.

What do we see in our list of observations that we can convert into insight?

6. Plan the Changes.

Our future gets better only if and when we understand our past (and present).

What must we change in the future? What must be resourced and given more attention? How are we going to do it? Who do we need to help us – do we need someone special?

Our future will only be as good as our ability to figure out our past and make necessary adjustments. Remember, knowledge doesn’t change anything. Only behavior change does.


7. Schedule the Changes into Our Calendars and Routines.

Ultimately, this is the biggest challenge of all. Now that we know we need to change…we need to change. We need to intentional do different things and do things differently than we have been. We have to start doing some things, and stop doing others. The best, and really only, way to do that is the schedule it into our day and adjust our routines to support the changes we want to make.

And, finally, repeat the evaluation process as we go.


So, there you have it. The single most valuable activity in personal develop, growth and success that I learned from John, along with the step-by-step process of how to do it effectively. Now you know how to convert experience into insight.


Now, you need to get a mentor! Just as John has mentored me, you’ll need a mentor to best do your reflection, evaluation, and make these changes. Be intentional in identifying those mentors. And if you’re thinking about me as a mentor for you, I’d be happy to discuss how that could work for you. 

Simply go to the “Contact Us” page and either give me a call for fill out the form and we’ll find a time to discuss the possibilities for you and your life.


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