Where Science Meets Muse

The First Step to Creative Innovation – Learning to Observe

Posted by Plish on June 5, 2009

This Picture is Your Assignment

This Picture is Your Assignment

When we’re awake, our eyes are taking everything in – everything!  However, we basically ignore the majority of the incoming data so that we can focus and accomplish the tasks at hand. 

Yes, we are ignoring most of what we see in the world.

This is an issue because the first step to solving a problem is seeing, or more precisely, observing a situation in its fullness.   So, if we’re not observing, we’re depriving ourselves of the ‘stuff’ that enables us to come up with creative and innovative  solutions. 

So how do we improve our abilities to observe?

Seeing turns into observing when there is some type of internalized reflection about what we’re looking at.  When we start asking Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?, while experiencing something with our eyes, we leave the world of passive seers and join the ranks of active observers.

It’s in observing that we see things more profoundly. 

It is in observing that we understand the context of what we see. 

It is the process of sifting through and connecting disparate observations that leads to creative problem solving and innovation.

So, here’s the lesson.  Pick a picture to look at.  I’ve attached one for your convenience.  Now, simply follow the rules below:

  • Try to approach everything you see with a “Wow!”  Be in awe of it, expect to be surprised by it.  Then…
  • Look at it. Look at all aspects of it.  Start from the foreground and move in to the background taking note of what you see.  Don’t draw conclusions yet, just take it all in.  Be sure to document what you see; these are the bones you will build upon.
  • Once you’ve spent some time doing that, start asking questions about what you’ve documented.  Journalists approach stories by asking Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?   Remember, there’s a story in what you’re looking at and by asking these questions you’re putting flesh on the bones.
  • Finally, pull together your answers to your questions and start drawing conclusions; start understanding the story behind what you see.  You’re giving the enfleshed bones life!! Also, don’t ignore your gut feelings; use them and recognize their connections to what you’re observing.  If you’re feeling something, odds are others will too.   Great solutions often have an emotional component to them; it’s why people fall in love with things like iPods.

Don’t be afraid to repeat the exercise looking at the art from different perspectives –  perhaps from the perspective of an older person, a person of the opposite sex, or a person from another culture.   When you’ve done this exercise a couple of times, you’ll soon realize that even though your eyes haven’t changed, you’re now seeing the world in a whole new way.


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