What Am I Not Seeing?
In 1926 Einstein (in conversation with Werner Heisenberg) declared it was nonsense to found a theory on observable facts alone: in reality the very opposite happens. “It is theory which first determines what can be observed.”
We like to believe we understand the things that go on around us. We base our decisions, opinions and actions on the things we see and hear. But are seeing the full picture?
The Art of Possibility recounts a 1953 experiment which discovered a frog’s eye can only perceive four types of phenomena
- clear lines of contrast
- sudden changes in illumination
- outlines in motion
- curves of outlines of small, dark objects
“A frog does not ‘see’ its mother’s face. It can’t appreciate a sunset or nuances of colour, It ‘sees’ only what it needs to survive. The frog’s eye delivers extremely selective information to the frog’s brain.”
Let’s consider the implication of this for human eyes and human brains.
“[Our] eyes are selective too. We think we can see ‘everything’ until we remember bees make out patterns written in ultraviolet light on flowers and owls see in the dark. The senses of every species are fine-tuned to perceive the information critical to their survival. Think of dog’s hearing and insects who pick up molecular traces emitted from potential mates acres away.”
“We perceive only the sensations we are programmed to receive, and our awareness is further restricted by the fact that we recognise only those for which we have mental maps or categories.”
It’s no surprise that the sensory data we’re exposed to every day is so potentially overwhelming that our brain has developed the capability of ignoring most of it. Actually living a modern life of #nofilter would be unbearable when you think of the cacophony of sounds around us, the mind boggling array of visual stimuli, and information vying from our attention from digital devices large and small.
We get through the day by focusing on what we need to survive. But seeing what we’ve always see, hearing what we’ve always heard and doing what we’ve always done isn’t a recipe for growth. The artist is constantly seeking innovation and change and is willing to sacrifice some of the comfort they’d otherwise find in the status quo to explore their creativity.
There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
Until we know something exists we have no way of thinking about it, let alone understanding it.
To think that we possess all the information there is to know about any situation is naive at best and potentially perilous.
How can we improve or expand what we see?
We can ask questions of those we trust. We can seek feedback on our ideas and assumptions.
We can ask “What Am I Not Seeing?”
The reply might offer information or experience that challenges and improves your thinking. It might offer a solution to your challenge that is a game-changer. It could provide you with a point of difference that makes an incredible difference to your career, and the lives of others. It could be an idea that changes the way the you operate in the world, or maybe changes the world.
Ask better questions and offer better answers.
Sometimes we are afraid to ask questions. Do we want to put ourselves on the line and actively seek critique of what we say and do?
The flip side is that we are also often afraid to offer genuine feedback. We’ve conditioned ourselves to click like and move on, as if that genuinely offers any value whatsoever.
When you see an opportunity to add the value of your knowledge or experience, take the time to volunteer it. “I saw your work and it got me thinking. Let me know if you’re looking for some feedback. I’ve got some questions and thoughts I’m willing to share if you’re interested.”
Giving good feedback is an art in itself. I’ve found Thanks for The Feedback a great resource for ideas on how to approach face to face conversations.
Online in a written format, it’s good to be specific with feedback and ask questions whose answers will show the way forward.
If you agree with my idea, if you think the work is making its point – tell me so, and tell me why, giving examples. “I think that premise is great. You’ve explained it well and it offers me a new framework to consider that topic.”
If possible, offer a way to make it better. “I’m interested in how you could add more detail here and take me further down the path of this idea. How far can you take it?”
If you see an error or problem in my assumption then I want to know about it. When you make your judgement and criticism about the idea and not me personally, it will be easier for me to put my ego aside and hear your feedback. “I didn’t find this very clear. Can you break it down further and make the language more simple?” or “I like the premise, but I’ve got some experience here and I wonder if you’ve overlooked (a, b and c). Reconsidering these things might make a difference to the successful outcome of your project.”
I want to acknowledge that genuine feedback can feel as fraught with risk to the giver as it does to the receiver. But when offered from the posture of generosity – ie. “You’ve put in the work and I’d like to share how I think YOU can make this even better” – you take the opportunity to lift up someone and their idea, rather than tear them down.
Let’s make this post an opportunity to practise that. I encourage you to get in touch and let me know what parts (if any) of this post resonated with you positively, and where you think there’s room for improvement. I genuinely value your feedback and I’ll be sure to reply.