Curiosity, Thinking Outside the Box…and Noticing
In my consulting practice, keynotes, and training sessions, I have consistently recommended that business professionals need to become more curious. In fact, I often recommend a megadose of curiosity in order to solve problems and make better informed decisions.
Obviously, curiosity is essential to being creative – which is closely related to the ability to “think outside the box.”
Curious, creative people tend to ask more questions, investigate more thoroughly, and are not afraid to “play” in order to come up with new ideas, innovations, and solutions.
Then why do so many creative people fail to turn their dreams into reality? Are we focusing on the wrong things?
Recently, I began reading a fascinating book, The Power of Noticing by Max Bazerman. While we’ve all been encouraged to analyze the internal and external factors that can contribute to the success or failure of any given action, the idea of simply noticing is often overlooked in decision making.
As a university professor, I’m often amazed at how many of my colleagues are fantastic at delving into minute details – but missing the “big picture.” In academia and business, many people unfortunately remain in their area of expertise and ignore anything that is not related to their field of interest.
In other words, many people “can’t see the forest for the trees.”
Although specialization has long been an important consideration for a job-related promotion, there has been an urgent need for business professionals to also have at least a rudimentary understanding of how their particular job fits in with all the other jobs in the organization.
There is a tendency to become complacent when it is assumed that we already know the key factors in a situation – at least in terms of how they relate to us. In our minds, it is just logical that we focus on those important elements and ignore the rest – somebody else will focus on them, right?
The current trend is toward harnessing “big data.” As I’ve noted in many of my blog posts, “big data” is critical in business and can be a powerful tool to help move a company up to the next level – but it is only part of the picture. Focusing exclusively on the “data” (without noticing any factors outside that data) skews both the information and ultimate decisions arising from that data.
Bazerman’s book addresses these issues head on and challenges us to actively notice what is going on around us. The book, however, is not a fluffy, “here’s how to heal your relationships” kind of book. Instead, it looks at major failures that led to loss of revenue, reputation, and, more importantly, loss of life (such as in 9/11 and the Challenger space shuttle disaster).
If we don’t notice, then we are bombarded with “predictable surprises” – situations that we did not expect…but should have if we had only taken the time to notice. In other words, “hindsight is 20/20.”
The goal, of course, is to help our foresight (not just our hindsight) become 20/20.
Puleo’s Pointers: Noticing Forces Us to Challenge Our Assumptions
We all have blind spots in how we take in and observe information – it’s part of the way our brains are wired. This short, classic video simply asks you to count the number of passes made by the basketball team in white.
Here’s another example from a “real life” experiment:
If you watched these two videos, then you might have been surprised at something so “obvious” that you didn’t notice.
Thinking inside the box means that we are following the instructions given to us. We’ve been taught to block out anything that is not related to the subject or object of our focus because it is “irrelevant.” But this tunnel vision actually skews our ability to see what is really happening.
Noticing, therefore, is more than just observing. I agree with Bazerman that the ability to really notice is often underrepresented in modern business. Whether we ignore these insights from ignorance, arrogance, or a focus on the bottom line is debatable. But what is not debatable is that not noticing can lead to horrific consequences that could have been avoided.
- How aware are you really of what is going on around you?
- Do you notice certain things – then dismiss them because you assume that they are not relevant to you?
- What assumptions are skewing your ability to be curious and notice?
- Isn’t it time for you to take the notes of the signs that you might have been missing?
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout: Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI. To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com.