by Rick Brenner
What we fail to notice about any situation — and what we do notice that isn't really there — can be the difference between the outcomes we fear, the outcomes we seek, and the outcomes that exceed our dreams. How can we improve our ability to notice?
Male Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) displaying during breeding season. On the morning after I saw my double shadow, I happened to pass between two male red-winged blackbirds, perched in two trees, one on each side of the path. They were engaged in vigorous negotiations regarding breeding territory. In such negotiations, they emit a call used specifically for these transactions, one I hadn't noticed before. I stopped to find the birds that were doing it, and I was rewarded with a fairly close-up view of this very display. You can learn more about their behavior from a video by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, hosted at YouTube. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Making my way around the pond at dawn, this morning is a bit different from most. The pond is mirror smooth; the sky completely clear. Dawn turns into brilliant sunrise just before I pass a place where my shadow falls on a low bank to my West. I suddenly notice that I have not one shadow, but two. One is familiar, the kind you always see on a sunny day. But the second is strange — it's faint, and higher than the first.
Eventually I realize that the sun casts the first shadow. The sun's reflection in the pond's mirror casts the second one. Such a simple thing, but I've never noticed it before.
I wonder: what else in Life have I never noticed? What goes unnoticed can become seriously important at the least convenient times. Here are four questions that might make the unnoticed more noticeable.
- What is here that I don't notice?
- In the rush to get from wherever we are to where we're supposed to be next, noticing what's here right now often escapes us. We focus more on where we're headed than where we are.
- Take in your surroundings with all your senses. What's here right now?
- What do I think is here that isn't really here?
- Expectations can distort observations. We see things that aren't there. For example, it took me six months to notice that the postal service had removed a corner mailbox in my neighborhood.
- What assumptions are you making about your corner of the world? Have you tested them lately?
- What isn't here, whose absence I don't notice?
- When we When we focus only on what's here,
we can fail to notice what isn't herefocus only on what's here, we can fail to notice what isn't here. For example, in a regular meeting where people engage in annoying sidebar conversation, the absence of sidebars might indicate something important.
- Noticing the absence of something requires imagining what can be, or remembering what has been, in spite of what is. Noticing what can be, but has never been, can lead to astounding innovations.
- What do I notice mistakenly in place of something that is actually here?
- Mistakes, misinterpretations, biases, and wishes can lead to noticing falsely one thing that isn't here in place of something else that actually is. When we experience fear and suspicion as a result of prejudice or superstition, we mistakenly notice what is not, instead of what is.
- Haste can cause errors like these. Bigotry can too. How many other sources can you find?
How many simple things don't we notice? Noticing my second shadow took a special situation. But if you think about it, almost every situation is special in some way. I'm beginning to believe that in every situation, there is much that I never noticed before. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Critical Thinking
- The Fine Art of Quibbling
- We usually think of quibbling as an innocent swan dive into unnecessary detail, like calculating shares of a lunch check to the nearest cent. In debate about substantive issues, a detour into quibbling can be far more threatening — it can indicate much deeper problems.
- Knowing Where You're Going
- Groups that can't even agree on what to do can often find themselves debating about how to do it. Here are some simple things to remember to help you focus on defining the goal.
- Inner Babble
- It goes by various names — self-talk, inner dialog, or internal conversation. Because it is so often disorganized and illogical, I like to call it inner babble. But whatever you call it, it's often misleading, distracting, and unhelpful. How can you recognize inner babble?
- Projection Errors at Work
- Often, at work, we make interpretations of the behavior of others. Sometimes we base these interpretations not on actual facts, but on our perceptions of facts. And our perceptions are sometimes erroneous.
- Logically Illogical
- Discussions in meetings and in written media can get long and complex. When a chain of reasoning gets long enough, we sometimes make fundamental errors of logic, especially when we're under time pressure. Here are just a few.
See also Critical Thinking and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact me for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: