Build observation skills – Supercharge your imagination
Let me explain.
Two people are checking out a thing. Doesn’t matter what that thing really is, but the two people, they’re the interesting part.
One of them is a tech head, meaning he has always been inspired by technology, innovation and cutting edge science. He follows Elon Musk, keeps up to date with the latest freaks out of Boston Robotics and always scrolls down to the technology section in Google News. When he walks into your house he’ll notice what kind of TV you have, where you’re router is located and any cool appliances you might have left out on the kitchen bench.
You can say that over the years he has chosen to fuel his mind with tech, or condition his mind to think techy thoughts. So it’s totally understandable that when he stands there observing this thing, the dominant associations or connections that are being made are based around technology, innovation and cutting edge science.
On the other hand we have an artist, always having been into art and design. She has numerous Pinterest boards, runs a small screen-printing class, and has a bunch of ‘Art News’ magazines scattered around her bohemian house. When she walks into your house she’ll immediately notice the ‘interesting’ colour scheme you’ve chosen, the subtle curves of the vase on the windowsill, and she’s already made a judgment on your choice of clothing before she even got through the door. In a good way, of course.
Over the years she has fuelled her mind with beauty, great design and art. So, again, it’s totally understandable that her perspective of that thing that they’re both observing will be dominated by associations and connections based around art and design.
This is all pretty obvious and from a neurological and biological point of view it makes perfect sense. As James Redfield puts it “Where attention goes, energy flows.” Like with our muscles, we build our minds according to our purpose. The more attention that gets put there, the stronger that section will become. Neuroplasticity in a nutshell. More squats means bigger thighs. More techy thoughts mean greater and more nuanced techy tendencies.
The world of tech and innovation has become so huge, while seeming to still not even scratch the surface of what’s possible so the number of connections that can be made from one object into the tech realm is huge. The same goes for art and design. Just think for a second about how much history alone there is in the art world, let alone theories and practices. And how many millions of ways can an object be made practical and beautiful at the same time. Again, the quantity of associations and connections into the art world are baffling.
But this mono-interest way of thinking is also pretty limiting. I don’t think its super helpful to see things from a very biased perspective all the time. It is useful when efficiency and speed is key, but used on an everyday basis, this method is actually quite restricting. So what if someone was to put themselves in the shoes of more than one expert to do the observing? What if you came along into this picture stood next to the other two people and observed this thing from the perspective of a tech head and an artist. Instantly you double the number of associations and connections available.
Think of it this way – A standard observer will see many things from one perspective while the skilled observer will see one thing from the perspective of many. Lets call it Empathic observing. As a result, the sheer number of associations and connections that can be made from this one thing are practically limitless.
But there’s a problem with this method and it’s this – How can someone be an expert on everyone’s perspectives? Surely you can’t be fully fueled up on tech, design, history, astronomy, geology, oceanography and quilting all at the same time? Well, no. Not your average person anyway. You know, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
The first aspect is the most obvious one and that is to always be learning. It is actually possible to learn far more that what you currently know. Tim Feriss, world renowned expert on accelerated learning and increased mental and physical capability gives a great guide to learning here and has numerous other articles and resources on how to build your expertise.
Personally I find the best motivation for learning is this:
One word – Curiosity. But curiosity heavily flavored with action.
How this works it this: Don’t wait for things to grab your attention. Millions of events fly by your presence without you ever noticing. Elen Langer, one of the world’s foremost teachers and leaders in Mindfulness describes it like this – Mindfulness is “The simple act of noticing things.” This is not passive but active, which means you need to be intentional about it. Find things to be curious about. Search for wonder and interest. Study the deep workings of simple little things.
I’ve recently listed my 5 top life values and have a daily reminder set to see how I went living my life in alignment with them that day. One of these 5 most important values is ‘wonder’. Every day I intentionally look for things to be awestruck about, to find beauty, to puzzle over how things work, to be amazed somehow. Ever since I’ve been a kid I’ve always been someone who just stops to check things out. A bug, a cool tree, an awesome looking knife, a biscuit – although the biscuit observing rarely lasts for long. *guilty look* But when I’m in the swing of it, there’s never a day that goes by without incredible stuff happening. This feeds my curiosity and fuels every part of my mind. I feel that it is one of the most important things that you can do for your wellbeing.
The other part is imagination.
I’m not much of a historian, so when I see a cool thing that looks like it could have been around for a while, my actual knowledge of the history of that item is very limited. Huge historical gaps start appearing in my consciousness. Well, that’s no good! Can’t have that. So the little bit of the OCD part of me slides into play and starts filling those gaps with its own history of that cool thing. Joining the dots of actual knowledge with imagined history not only feels rewarding and completing but also can be really fun. You can be as detailed as you like, the more detailed the better, going as far as picturing the first people making it, holding it and talking about it. What did they say, wear, act like. What did they do with it, etc.
The same thing goes for how something is made. Don’t know how that bottle over there is made, make it up. Picture someone actually working on it from scratch and coming up with the finished product. Or more boringly, picture a big automated factory blowing the things out by the millisecond and stacking them in giant storehouses.
The fact is, fact doesn’t really matter here, but the more facts you have, the more accurate your imagination will end up being. Life’s fun. You don’t have to be right. We usually aren’t anyway, so have fun with it.
The act of Empathically observing is by far the most rewarding and useful ways of observing things. You’ll see new uses, possibilities and beauties arise from stuff that you’ve never thought of before. Gradually, (not suddenly, unfortunately), your world will be filled with new connections, new associations that will bring objects, people, places and events together in ways that you never thought possible. You’ll be able to use these new associations to find ways of repairing things, building things, relating to people, creating moments and building confidence in yourself and the way you understand and interact with the world.
So start here – Pick up a book, watch a Ted Talk and be intentional about your curiosity, finding beauty and wonder in every day. Imagine deeply and play with reality. And at the end of each day, think back, rate yourself for that day and commit to growth for tomorrow. Then sleep, letting your long-term memory settle in, gradually, reconstructing your world, ready to overlay brand new realities and connections, building a better you for tomorrow.