Most people see the world in black and white, missing most of the opportunities in their midst. They travel down the same routes day after day. The path is so familiar that they can practically navigate it in their sleep. But, there are some people who see the world in Technicolor. Their eyes are wide open and the endless opportunities are always evident. When we look at their lives, we are amazed by all they accomplish, by the fascinating things they are doing; and we often wonder how to make our lives as rich and stimulating. It’s actually pretty easy… all you need to do is remove the blinders!
Tom Kelley, author of The Art of Innovation, says that every day you should act like a foreign traveler by being acutely aware of your environment. In everyday life we tend to put on blinders and cruise down well-worn paths, rarely stopping to look around. But as a traveler in a foreign country, you see the world with fresh eyes and dramatically increase the density of your experiences. By tuning in, you find fascinating things around every turn.
Paying careful attention to your environment actually takes some effort. You have to teach yourself to do it well, and even when you’re paying attention, you can miss really interesting and important information that’s right in front of you. A widely distributed video shows this all too clearly. An audience is asked to watch a group of men and women tossing around a basketball. They’re told to count the number of times the team in white shirts passes the ball. At the end of the video, viewers can easily answer that question, but are oblivious to the fact that someone in a bear suit moonwalks right through the game.
Even when we think we’re paying full attention, there’s usually so much more to see. I do a simple exercise in my class that illustrates this clearly. I send students to a familiar location, such as the local shopping center, and ask them to complete a “lab” in which they go to several stores and pay attention to all the things that are normally “invisible.” They take the time to notice the sounds, smells, textures, and colors, as well as the organization of the merchandise and the way the staff interacts with the customers. They observe endless things they never saw when they previously zipped in and out of the same environment. They come back with their eyes wide open, realizing that we all tend to walk through life with blinders on.
This blog post is an edited excerpt from What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, published by HarperCollins.