The thing about perspective – what we see when we look – is that we can’t hold all potential perspectives at once. It’s not possible. The closest we can get is knowing there are different ways to see and toggling between them. Like stretching an elastic band in different directions.
The challenge is that most of the time we don’t consciously realise there could be a different way. Because what we choose to focus on is our natural landing place. It’s a reflection of who we are and where our interests lie.
With frequent use, our neural pathways get established and it takes an effort to ‘go another way’. Especially when we’re thinking fast, our mind takes the easy route.
Long and short
So if we are going to strengthen our thinking capacity to see beyond the obvious, we need to be more intentional in using our perspective.
For example, if we tend to take a longer-term view, we will focus farther into the distance. This means that we might not notice the detail quite so well.
Perhaps we’ll be drawn to more conceptual thinking, as this is the way our brains can more readily interpret things that are far away.
This perspective is really important. Without it, we’ll just be reactive and miss the opportunity of steering a wise course through unknown territory.
However, it may also mean that we struggle to translate the benefits of this longer view into tangible action. Or appreciate the emotional impact. Therefore, one way to enlarge our perspective is to ask So what? And if asking it once does not give enough of an answer, ask it again. Iteratively.
Conversely, we may have a shorter-term perspective. Again this is valuable, but not if it causes us to miss vital long-term cues.
‘What am I missing?’ is a good stretcher.
Sometimes these questions are easier than others. If you’re struggling with this, ask yourself ‘What might I lose if I shifted my perspective?’ This sometimes highlights fear and identity issues, which always lose at least some of their power when voiced.
Narrow and wide
The dichotomy of breadth has similar characteristics to distance and shares similar ways of stretching our thinking.
If we have a tendency to choose a narrow perspective, then we tend to see things in depth. Again whilst this is valuable of itself, it could be enhanced further.
For example, we might discern patterns at this micro level that might be replicated elsewhere. In organisational culture, we often see a pattern of behaviour expressed in one team also is evident elsewhere. Even though they may be completely dissimilar in function.
We also might ask a boundary spanning question, which forces us to look for connections beyond our current perspective. But this only happens if we practise being intentional in our thinking.
On the other hand, those of us who always tend to stretch the boundaries can get overwhelmed. Our wide perspective is important in seeing the whole system. And a way to strengthen that viewpoint is also to intentionally look for patterns.
This not only acts as an antidote to our being flooded with data but also enables us to sift out connections and causation. It helps us to use this insight more powerfully and communicate to others more clearly.
Interestingly this pattern recognition also scales downward and we find that the shapes evident on a wider scale are also replicated in a narrow field. These are fractals and they are fascinating (and incredibly powerful).
Celebration and curiosity
Knowing our natural perspective – the one we use the most – is great. It enables us to celebrate the distinctive viewpoint that we can contribute, and use it more intentionally to lever the change we want to see. Especially if we can find others with complementary perspectives – now that we have a language to appreciate the difference.
Curiosity then becomes the powerful gift we give ourselves.
“I think of myself as being quite a shy person. But when I am curious, I’ll go quite far to satisfy my curiosity.“ Alain de Botton
Holding our own perspective lightly enough to be curious about how others see what we are looking at. Or intentionally stretching our natural viewpoints can take us to some truly disruptive places!
“Once recognised, the quiet yet persistent voice of curiosity doesn’t go away.“ Seth Godin, Tribes.
Interested in more?
- Elastic: flexible thinking in a constantly changing world. Leonard Mlodinow, Allen Lane 2018
- The Opposable Mind: how successful leaders win through integrative thinking. Roger Martin, Harvard Business Press 2007
- Wise perspectives – steps to cultivate what you see (Jun 17)
- What do we see when we stop to notice? (Jul 17)
- Look up – what do you see? (Aug 17)
- The art of fresh thinking – cultivating curiosity (Nov 17)
- Our unique and precious sight ( Feb 18)
- Monday: Fast or slow?
- Tuesday: Find your way to celebrate
- Wednesday: Who are you connecting to?
- Thursday: What questions are you asking yourself?
- Friday: Harvesting the best