ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

What are You Seeing when You’re Listening? – Don’t Ignore this Key to Innovation

Posted by Plish on January 15, 2018

To observations which ourselves we make, we grow more partial for th’ observer’s sake. (Alexander Pope)

I really like the book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers .   It’s chock full of insights and I like just picking a random page and reading.  But there’s a problem with it  – actually there’s a problem with all books that give the ‘secrets behind success’.

One can only see what one observes, and one observes only things which are already in the mind. (Alphonse Bertillon)

If you ask people, “what are you doing there?”, they will tell you what it is they think they’re doing.  The problem is that it may, or may not, be what they’re actually doing.

So is the information contained in books like Tools of Titans wrong?

No, not at all.  But it very well may be incomplete, or worse, inaccurate.  Very often people say what it is that they remember what they’re doing.  They share what they think is important  – the little things are left out.

Practical observation commonly consists of collecting a few facts and loading them with guesses.(Author unknown)

I was researching a surgical procedure once to determine if there were some improvements that could be made to the devices the doc was using.  He told me what he was doing, before, during and after the procedure.  He answered all of my questions.

However, what was surprising to me is that, while he said there were no problems with the procedure, there was a certain repetitive motion that the doc used.  It wasn’t even a comfortable motion, it was very awkward in fact.

But the doctor never mentioned it and said everything was great!

Developing better and more accurate observational skills is essential for everybody and every profession. Basically, If you can’t observe accurately, you can’t think accurately. (Tiit Raid)

You can observe a lot by just watching. (Yogi Berra)

The key point here is that observation is key to understanding what people are doing.  In fact, observation can be even more powerful that interviews alone.  But, communicating the observations such that they can become building blocks for future projects is a task unto itself.

There is no more difficult art to acquire than the art of observation, and for some men it is quite as difficult to record an observation in brief and plain language. (Sir William Osler)

Observing without communicating this information effectively can  create a situation in which people can reach inaccurate conclusions, and then that could result in a product that doesn’t meet  requirements, or worse: a project gets cancelled because there is no perceived need.

Tools of Titans‘ author, Tim Ferriss,  only shared information that he personally experimented with.  So, in essence, Tools of Titans is a list of things that worked for Tim.   That, incidentally, is a great way to show others what you’ve learned.  Try it and then share!

Everyone is in the best seat. (John Cage)

 

Everyone thinks that they know what they’re doing.    Especially if it has to do with their own habits/rituals.  That’s not bad, just incomplete.  Sometimes the only access we have to a person’s activities are through what they say they do.  We just have to  trust and try and flesh it out.  With the right questions, sometimes interviewees themselves are surprised to learn what they’re doing.

Tools of Titans does a great job of sharing people’s perceived actions and activities.  It’s a great resource.  But, it’s also a great reminder that as designers, as innovators, while we can learn powerful things from what people say they do, we can learn even more by observing.

 

 

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