Learning in action: Plan – act – reflect – learn – repeat

It was only a matter of time before I would apply my action learning mindset from my research fellow life to my life as a powerlifter. Powerlifting is a form of competitive weightlifting in which athletes attempt three types of lift in a set sequence, squat, bench press and deadlift.

Action Learning Cycle
The Action Learning Cycle

Action Learning in Management Development and Research

Action learning is an approach to problem solving. It involves taking action and reflecting upon the results and then learn from what happened. The new learning then can be used for new action planning, taking action and so on. Action learning is becoming increasingly popular in management development and is applied in both the private and the public sector. Here managers address real-life problems and usually work with a group of co-workers, to plan and then take action and after reflection, learn from what happened. It is an approach to find resolutions to messy issues or wicked problems where issues are complex and dependent on so many factors that it is hard to grasp what exactly the problem is, or how to tackle it. I am applying action learning in both my academic and my managerial work life.

Action Learning in Athletic Sport

Now I apply the planning – acting – reflecting – learning approach to my powerlifting training and competition also. But let me explain.

I use a training journal and write down what I am planning to lift at my next training session (planning action). Then I carry out the lifts (taking action). I usually video the lifts on my phone to check if the technique is  good, if the speed of the lift is adequate and if my form is OK. I reflect on how the lift felt. Did it feel heavy or light? Was I struggling or am I ready for loading on more weight. What went right what went wrong?

Then I learn by asking “Why”. Why did the lift feel good? Why did the lift feel heavy? For example, what time of the day did I train? How was my nutrition on the previous day? Did I have a good night’s sleep? I write down my observations so that I can compare them to past and future training sessions.

So, one might ask why applying action learning to something as simple as powerlifting, where the athlete just picks up a weight of the ground? Well, as all powerlifting athletes can confirm, lifting may look simple, but in order to set and break records the applied technique is very complex and the preparation quite intense. Also, the human body is one of the most complex systems in the world. We still don’t know enough about the mind-body connection in sport and why we perform well on some days and not so well on other days. So far, I haven’t found any scientific article that explains the complex workings of the human body when carrying out athletic sports. I would be happy to learn more about it from existing knowledge. But in the meantime I will continue to learn from action!

Learning to innovate and addressing the water crisis

Water scarcity affects every continent and was listed in 2019 by the World Economic Forum as one of the largest global risks in terms of potential impact over the next decade.

Since February 2019 I am working in an EU funded project, addressing water supply, where engineering, environmental, geography and management researchers from many countries work together with a network of industry and water authorities. The engineers, geographers and environmental scientists develop and progress the field trials of new technology. As a management and action researcher, I am helping to bring the right people together, to disseminate the new technology and help to ensure adoption becomes reality. I support the learning in action by the network through questioning, critical reflection, understanding the motivations and overcoming the barriers facing water authorities, users and industry.

An example is the launch event in Blackstairs, Co Wexford, Ireland, in May 2019.

Over the last year, researchers in Trinity College Dublin had developed a low-cost hydro-power turbine, reducing energy consumption from water treatment and distribution works by 20-25%.  (Read more at https://www.tcd.ie/news_events/)

A prototype of this turbine was installed in the Blackstairs Group Water Scheme site, Co. Wexford, Ireland. The opening event was primarily designed to officially launch and demonstrate the installation to national water treatment site managers and industry representatives and government officials, so they could see the benefits.

Beside the celebrations, this was a learning opportunity also for all of us, for practitioners and researchers alike. Not only did we learn about new hydro-power technology, we learned to innovate also.

Innovation has many different definitions. In the context of this innovation project, the one I think fits best is developing solutions to existing problems.

Learning to innovate means acquiring the capabilities to find solutions to existing problems, in this case finding, solutions to address the problem of the high energy costs for water treatment.

So, what exactly did we learn during the event?

Setting the Scene

First of all the organisers of the event learned how best to create an environment that facilitates learning to innovate, to put in place the logistics such as the support staff transport, catering, the timing of events, so that the learners could just focus on the learning and did not have to worry about anything else.

Facilitate Discussions and Questioning

About 40 water industry representatives and 10 researchers attended the event. We had to ensure that all were comfortable to ask plenty of questions, both formally and informally.
After the initial welcome, presentations where held by both researchers and site managers, facilitating initial questions.

Then the visit to the turbine demonstration site visit followed. After the official unveiling of the plaque, the attendees formed smaller groups, so they could discuss the installation, ask the researchers about the installation and how it worked, and assess how the technology could work on their site.

Back at the event location, a formal question and answer session took place. Initially a facilitator asked panel members a number of general questions, where all could listen and then participate in the conversation. We agreed to have a follow on session in one of the other water treatment sites. During the lunch afterwards more questions arose.
Throughout the event we emphasised that both researchers and practitioners are learners and teachers.

Learning about Barriers and Enablers to Innovation

Deriving from all the questions asked the participants learned about the barriers and enablers to innovate. The barriers were for example the volume of data required to assess the feasibility to install the turbine, and the variation in the local environments. However, there were many enablers also, for example the belief among all that this was the right thing to do and the availability of research funding.

Overall, site managers, water industry representative and other practitioners learned about energy recovery possibilities in their own operation facilities. The researchers learned how to diffuse their new inventions.

Above all, however, both practitioners and researcher learned what it takes to innovate,  and promote continuous innovation, an essential capability for addressing sustainability issues and global water scarcity in the 21st century.

Micropower installation in Blackstairs
The Hydropower Installation in Blackstairs, Co. Wexford, Ireland

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle”

Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle (Napoleon Hill).

Napoleon Hill probably did not mean specifically weightlifting and powerlifting when he said that, but it works here, too 🙂 +++ Napoleon Hill meint  wahrscheinlich nicht speziell Gewichtheben und Powerlifting, als er das sagte, aber es funktioniert auch hier 🙂



Leading by Example – If she can’t see it, she can’t be it.

20×20  (20×20.ie) is asking all sections of Irish society to show their stripes and pledge one small action to increase the visibility of women’s sport 

Here is my contribution. I’m hoping to see more women lifting weights. The benefits for women are for example:


  • Lose body fat. Weight training builds muscle, as lean muscle increases so does metabolism.
  • Gain strength without bulking.
  • Decrease risk of osteoporosis.
  • Reduce risk of injury.
  • Improve posture and reduce back pain.
  • Enhance mood and reduce stress.

See you at the squat rack! 🙂


New Office Hours Aim for Well Rested, More Productive Workers+++Neue Bürozeiten zielen auf gut ausgeruhte, produktivere Arbeitnehmer ab

Here is an interesting article from the New York Times (24 December 2018), describing a real life experiment:

A growing number of businesses are encouraging their employees to work when their bodies are most awake

A few years ago, scientists conducted a real-world experiment at a ThyssenKrupp steel factory in Germany. They assigned the day shift to early risers and the late shift to night owls.

Soon the steel workers, many of whom had been skeptical at the outset, were getting an extra hour of sleep on work nights. By simply aligning work schedules with people’s internal clocks, the researchers had helped people get more and better rest.

“They got 16 percent more sleep, almost a full night’s length over the course of the week,” said Till Roenneberg, a chronobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, who headed the study. “That is enormous.”

In recent years, American educators have been paying increased attention to their students’ sleep needs, with growing debate about delaying school start times. Now a number of businesses are following suit, encouraging their employees to work when their bodies are most awake.

“It’s a huge financial burden not to sleep properly,” Dr. Roenneberg said. “The estimates go toward 1 percent of gross national product,” both in the United States and Germany.

Emerging science reveals that each of us has an optimal time to fall asleep and wake up, a personalized biological rhythm known as a “chronotype.” When you don’t sleep at the time your body wants to sleep — your so-called biological night — you don’t sleep as well or as long, setting the stage not only for fatigue, poor work performance and errors but also health problems ranging from heart disease and obesity to anxiety and depression.

A full 80 percent of people have work schedules that clash with their internal clocks, said Céline Vetter, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and director of the university’s circadian and sleep epidemiology lab. “The problem is huge,” Dr. Vetter said. “If we consider your individual chronotype and your work hours, the chances are very high that there’s quite a bit of misalignment.”

Put it this way: If you rely on an alarm clock to wake up, you’re out of sync with your own biology.

Studies on workers in the call center of a mobile phone company, a packaging manufacturer and an oil transportation company show that these employees are more stressed and may experience more work-related discomfort and pain. It’s the mismatch — not the hours themselves — that matters. A 2015 Harvard Medical School study found that for night owls, working during the day increases diabetes risk.


Hier ist ein interessanter Artikel aus der New York Times (24. Dezember 2018), der ein reales Experiment beschreibt:

Eine wachsende Zahl von Unternehmen ermutigt ihre Mitarbeiter dazu, zu arbeiten, wenn ihre Körper am meisten wach sind

Vor einigen Jahren führten Wissenschaftler ein Experiment in einem ThyssenKrupp Stahlwerk in Deutschland durch. Sie teilten die Tagschicht Frühaufstehern und die Spätschicht Nachtschwärmern zu.

Bald hatten die Stahlarbeiter, von denen viele zu Beginn skeptisch waren, in den Arbeitsnächten eine zusätzliche Stunde Schlaf bekommen. Indem sie die Arbeitszeitpläne einfach an den internen Uhren der Menschen ausrichteten, hatten die Forscher den Menschen geholfen, mehr und bessere Ruhe zu finden.

“Sie haben 16 Prozent mehr Schlaf bekommen, fast eine ganze Nacht über die Woche”, sagte Till Roenneberg, Chronobiologe an der Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität in München, der die Studie leitete. “Das ist enorm.”

In den letzten Jahren haben amerikanische Pädagogen verstärkt auf die Schlafbedürfnisse ihrer Schüler geachtet. Nun folgen eine Reihe von Unternehmen dem Beispiel und ermutigen ihre Mitarbeiter dazu, zu arbeiten, wenn ihre Körper am meisten wach sind.

“Es ist eine riesige finanzielle Belastung, nicht richtig zu schlafen”, sagte Dr. Roenneberg. „Die Schätzungen gehen von einem Prozent des Bruttosozialprodukts aus“, sowohl in den USA als auch in Deutschland.

Aktuelle Forschungergebnisse zeigen, dass jeder von uns eine optimale Zeit hat, einzuschlafen und aufzuwachen, ein persönlicher biologischer Rhythmus, der als “Chronotyp” bezeichnet wird. Wenn Sie nicht schlafen, wenn Ihr Körper schlafen möchte – Ihre sogenannte biologische Nacht – Sie schlafen also  nicht so gut oder so lange, kann dass nicht nur zu Müdigkeit, schlechter Arbeitsleistung und Fehlern führen, sondern auch zu Gesundheitsproblemen wie Herzkrankheiten und Fettleibigkeit, bis hin zu Angstzuständen und Depressionen.

80 Prozent der Menschen haben Arbeitszeitpläne, die mit ihren internen Uhren kollidieren, sagte Céline Vetter, Assistenzprofessor an der University of Colorado in Boulder und Leiterin des Circadian- und Schlafepidemiologielabors der Universität. “Das Problem ist riesig”, sagte Dr. Vetter. “Wenn wir Ihren individuellen Chronotyp und Ihre Arbeitszeit berücksichtigen, sind die Chancen sehr groß, dass es zu einer Fehlstellung kommt.”

Um es so auszudrücken: Wenn Sie beim Aufwachen auf einen Wecker angewiesen sind, sind Sie mit Ihrer eigenen Biologie nicht synchron.

Untersuchungen von Mitarbeitern im Callcenter eines Mobilfunkunternehmens, eines Verpackungsherstellers und eines Öltransportunternehmens zeigen, dass diese Mitarbeiter stärker belastet sind und möglicherweise mehr arbeitsbedingte Beschwerden und Schmerzen empfinden. Es ist die Nichtübereinstimmung – nicht die Stunden selbst -, auf die es ankommt. Eine Studie der Harvard Medical School aus dem Jahr 2015 ergab, dass das Arbeiten am Tag bei Nachtschwärmer das Diabetes-Risiko erhöht.