Excerpt from “This Could…” – Learning to See

I am publishing a series of excerpts from my next book This Could: How Two Words Can Create Opportunity in an Era of Limited Resources over on the book website. Below is a recent excerpt from the site: “Learning to See.”

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” – Anaïs Nin

To raise our awareness of new opportunities, we have to build new capabilities—new capabilities that are better, stronger, faster (cue Six Million Dollar Man theme). 

Our first step is learning to see.

Learning to see is a key part of discovering potential and revealing opportunity. It isn’t about improving your vision. Learning to see is about training your mind to perceive your surroundings with full awareness, open to new contexts and potential.

It takes work.

Writing on Aeon, Gene Tracy says, “Learning to see is not an innate gift; it is an iterative process, always in flux and constituted by the culture in which we find ourselves and the tools we have to hand.” 

Remember that altering the language we use—internally and externally—is one of the best tools we have to generate new thinking about existing assets. The good news is that this skill comes pre-installed in us. Our brains are constructed in a way that separates the mental process of seeing something from the process of contemplating and describing it. 

In the 1970s, Elizabeth K. Warrington and Angela M. Taylor performed a study on patients who had damage to cognitive areas of the brain but no damage to their visual pathways. As Tracy writes about the study:

“It transpired that the part of the brain that’s active when we identify the three-dimensional shape of an object (say, a cylindrical white item on the desk) is different from the area involved in knowing its purpose or name (a coffee cup that holds your next sip).”

If you find yourself stuck on the concept of letting go of fixed identities and perceptions of things, remember this: every time you encounter an object, material, or other asset, your brain literally gives you space to work with between your visual recognition of the object and your understanding of what you see. 

So if you have a coffee cup that is holding pens, a coffee can that is holding nuts and bolts, a shoe box that is holding your child’s legos, or anything along these lines, you’ve already shown that you can tap into that space between an object’s visual identity and your perception of its use. 

What’s stopping you from doing the same to everything else you see?

The full chapter on Learning to See, with exercises to hone your abilities, is available for free here.