Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 18;   May 2, 2012: On Noticing

On Noticing

by

What we fail to notice about any situation — and what we do notice that isn't really there — can be the difference between the outcomes we fear, the outcomes we seek, and the outcomes that exceed our dreams. How can we improve our ability to notice?
Male Red-Winged Blackbird displaying during breeding season

Male Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) displaying during breeding season. On the morning after I saw my double shadow, I happened to pass between two male red-winged blackbirds, perched in two trees, one on each side of the path. They were engaged in vigorous negotiations regarding breeding territory. In such negotiations, they emit a call used specifically for these transactions, one I hadn't noticed before. I stopped to find the birds that were doing it, and I was rewarded with a fairly close-up view of this very display. You can learn more about their behavior from a video by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, hosted at YouTube. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Making my way around the pond at dawn, this morning is a bit different from most. The pond is mirror smooth; the sky completely clear. Dawn turns into brilliant sunrise just before I pass a place where my shadow falls on a low bank to my West. I suddenly notice that I have not one shadow, but two. One is familiar, the kind you always see on a sunny day. But the second is strange — it's faint, and higher than the first.

Eventually I realize that the sun casts the first shadow. The sun's reflection in the pond's mirror casts the second one. Such a simple thing, but I've never noticed it before.

I wonder: what else in Life have I never noticed? What goes unnoticed can become seriously important at the least convenient times. Here are four questions that might make the unnoticed more noticeable.

What is here that I don't notice?
In the rush to get from wherever we are to where we're supposed to be next, noticing what's here right now often escapes us. We focus more on where we're headed than where we are.
Take in your surroundings with all your senses. What's here right now?
What do I think is here that isn't really here?
Expectations can distort observations. We see things that aren't there. For example, it took me six months to notice that the postal service had removed a corner mailbox in my neighborhood.
What assumptions are you making about your corner of the world? Have you tested them lately?
What isn't here, whose absence I don't notice?
When we When we focus only on what's here,
we can fail to notice what isn't here
focus only on what's here, we can fail to notice what isn't here. For example, in a regular meeting where people engage in annoying sidebar conversation, the absence of sidebars might indicate something important.
Noticing the absence of something requires imagining what can be, or remembering what has been, in spite of what is. Noticing what can be, but has never been, can lead to astounding innovations.
What do I notice mistakenly in place of something that is actually here?
Mistakes, misinterpretations, biases, and wishes can lead to noticing falsely one thing that isn't here in place of something else that actually is. When we experience fear and suspicion as a result of prejudice or superstition, we mistakenly notice what is not, instead of what is.
Haste can cause errors like these. Bigotry can too. How many other sources can you find?

How many simple things don't we notice? Noticing my second shadow took a special situation. But if you think about it, almost every situation is special in some way. I'm beginning to believe that in every situation, there is much that I never noticed before. Go to top Top  Next issue: Nonlinear Work: When Superposition Fails  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenQDRqBehTOHPZBAQRner@ChacMtTQrJwgtModjvGfoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Critical Thinking at Work:

U.S. Budget DeficitsThe Fallacy of the False Cause
Although we sometimes make decisions with incomplete information, we do the best we can, given what we know. Sometimes, we make wrong decisions not because we have incomplete information, but because we make mistakes in how we reason about the information we do have.
The mushroom cloud from the Grable test of 1953Misleading Vividness
Group decision-making usually entails discussion. When contributions to that discussion include vivid examples, illustrations, or stories, the group can be at risk of making a mistaken decision.
Two halos: the Ring Nebula and a solar haloThe Halo Effect
The Halo Effect is a cognitive bias that causes our evaluation of people, concepts, or objects to be influenced by our perceptions of one attribute of those people, concepts, or objects. It can lead us to make significant errors of judgment.
Marching chickens, a metaphor for groupthinkWhat Groupthink Isn't
The term groupthink is tossed around fairly liberally in conversation and on the Web. But it's astonishing how often it's misused and misunderstood. Here are some examples.
Darrelle Revis, cornerback in the U.S. National Football LeagueWishful Interpretation: II
Wishful "thinking," as we call it, can arise in different ways. One source is the pattern of choices we make when we interpret what we see, what we hear, or any other information we receive. Here's Part II of an inventory of ways our preferences and wishes affect how we interpret the world.

See also Critical Thinking at Work and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenluBebUhNjyBsoPtyner@ChacOADXYUsoZLPgNvPRoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.