Being cognizant of what's going on around us is important for everyone. Sure, we all think we know what's happening. And we're usually convinced that we're right.
Betty Edwards, in the Preface to The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, describes how students could draw a picture from an upside-down original that they couldn't draw right-side up. When we "know" what we're seeing, what we know interferes with our accurate observation. Our mind fills in missing details, and even obscures visible details, with what it expects to see. If you want to understand and affect what's going on around us, you need to start from observations, not just the model in your head. The model may guide you to examine certain aspects, but then put that aside a moment and look at what is truly visible. And that advice is for a simple two-dimensional presentation.
Now let's think about an important situation that surrounds us. Not only do we have to deal with three dimensional space, but it changes dynamically. If you take some responsibility for the larger picture, perhaps as a manager, a change-agent, a coach trying to help people within a situation, or a concerned participant, would want to work for the good of the whole situation. To do that, you need to understand how it looks from multiple points of view.
Look around; who is around you? What aspects are they observing? What can they see about those aspects?
Look around again. Who else is there that you didn't consider the first time? Just as our mind fills in details it expects to see, it overlooks people we take for granted or don't consider "important" enough.
Now look beyond who you can see. Who might not be in view, but is affected by what's going on?
Annie Duke, in Thinking in Bets, describes "blind-spot bias," the human tendency to overlook our own biases even when we can spot the same in others. According to the research she cites, the "smarter" people are, the more deeply they fall into this trap. I've not yet finished the book, so I don't know if she offers an antidote to this particular problem, but I'd like to offer you one. The antidote to our blind-spots is to enlist the viewpoints of others.
Sure, others will have blind-spots of their own, but those are often easily visible to us, since it's not our own blind-spot. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, though. It's tempting, reflexive even, for smart people to discount the points of view from others, obviously less smart whose blind-spots we can so clearly see. The point is not to swallow their point of view whole, but to use it to question your own certainty. It's OK to admit your own uncertainty, and doing so helps us be thoughtful, self-aware, and open-minded. These attributes give you a great advantage at making decisions that move in the direction you desire.
So empathize with others who have different points of view. How do things feel from their point of view? This is different from "how would I feel in their situation?" The honest answer may be "I don't know." Admit that to yourself. If you want to dig further, ask them. Be prepared, though, to really listen to them with empathy and an intent of understanding. You'll still have a tendency to "prove them wrong" to support your own beliefs, even if only in your internal dialog. Try to hear what they mean and what that shows that they see. Leave it to later to reconcile it with your own beliefs.
And when you do that reconciliation, do it mindful of the fact that your beliefs are unlikely to be comprehensive and infallible. Ignorance and uncertainty are not character flaws--they are opportunities for growth and understanding.
P.S. Does this resonate with you? Or can you see my blind-spots? I'd really like these newsletters to spark conversations.
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