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 herefocus 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. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Critical Thinking at Work:
- Projection Errors at Work
- Often, at work, we make interpretations of the behavior of others. Sometimes we base these interpretations
not on actual facts, but on our perceptions of facts. And our perceptions are sometimes erroneous.
- What 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.
- Wishful Interpretation: I
- Wishful thinking comes from more than mere imagination. It can enter when we interpret our own observations
or what others tell us. Here's Part I of a little catalog of ways our wishes affect how we interpret
- Tackling Hard Problems: II
- In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution,
and look at how we get from the beginning to the end.
- Missing the Obvious: II
- With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised
us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen?
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- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.