ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

What do You See? – Are You Doing These Two Things to Improve Your Observational Skills?

Posted by Plish on October 6, 2015

We all know what one swinging pendulum looks like.  But what do multiple swinging pendulums (pendula😉 ) look like?

I love the pendulum wave because it highlights two key aspects to improving observational skills (and observation is essential to design and innovation!).

  1. Pay attention to the angle of observation (i.e. perspective) – Are you seeing something in the only way possible?  Can you observe the phenomenon from other directions?  Is it the best angle?  From a particular angle, what’s moving and what’s standing still? What’s surrounding what you’re looking at? What’s in the foreground and background?
  2. Be cognizant of how much time you spend looking at something – Are you spending enough time observing something?  Do you feel confident that you’ve seen all there is to see in the time taken? Can you learn something by looking at it less? (Think a snapshot vs. a video)

If you didn’t spend enough time looking at the swinging balls, you could reach inaccurate conclusions as to what was happening.  At one moment they are swinging in a snake like motion.  At another, it looks random.  Look at it from a different direction and totally different conclusions might be reached.

I remember when I was learning to fly a glider, it became second nature to pay attention to other aircraft.  The above two points were especially important in determining if something was on a collision course.  Seeing aircraft moving on the horizon wasn’t  alarming.  It was seeing them NOT moving – and then getting bigger that signaled impending danger.

The angle of view, and the length of time I spent observing, were important to properly assessing the situation.  Look for too short of a time and the speck in the sky isn’t recognized as another aircraft.  Change the direction of the plane I was flying and now the approaching object’s shape and trajectory become more apparent.

This isn’t just about ‘hard’ objects, you can look in a ‘soft’ manner as well.  Is the scowl on the person’s face because of an emotion (short time frame) or a mood (longer time frame)?

Next time you’re looking at something, spend some time interiorizing these two questions.  Reflect on how you’re looking at something, and for how long. Try to look at things from different perspectives.  If everyone is looking at something from the top, try to see it from the bottom.  If people only glance at something, sit down and really look at it for minutes at a time.

If nothing else, you might be taken by the beauty of the world that surrounds us, and you might see something for the first time!

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