Updated: Dec 7, 2020
“To change the way you think, change the way you see.” Adam Brandenburger
We have become used to thinking differently, thanks in no small part to the famous 1997 Apple advertisement. But can you see differently?
Looking at the familiar in an unfamiliar way is called de-familiarisation. Its opposite is habituation. Habituation is one of the most common forms of learning, a design feature built into our brains to prevent us, literally, from paying too much attention to one thing. Our neurons stop firing when sufficient information has been collected about a stimulus that does not appear to be changing.
Sounds are commonly habituated. When we hear them all the time we gradually screen them out, but habituation can be in the form of smells. A simple example is how perfume or cologne fades not too long after spraying, whilst for others you meet it can be instantly recognisable. We can also stop seeing images that do not change in our peripheral vision. As most of us will readily admit, habituation occurs in relationships too, with small details that may have thrilled us in the early stages of our relationships with others fading into insignificance after having worked together for a while. While habituation may help us to focus and learn, when too much habituation sets in, we can miss seeing important things in our work, and in our relationships. But simple techniques can jumpstart seeing differently once again.
Visualise or recall what drew you to working with a business partner or colleague in the first place, and spend some time reflecting on those qualities. Changing up routines is also useful, so try working on new activities or projects together. And just as we aim to do with our personal relationships, practice a little gratitude, reminding others what you appreciate about the contribution that they bring. This is a surprisingly effective way of engaging and keeping employees engaged. If you can't find things to be grateful for, perhaps that’s a sign of needing some more reflection time in your working life in general. Too often we squeeze down time to think, prioritising other activities that seem more urgent or important.
Forcing us to step back from our common or ingrained assumptions may bring about much needed perspective for unlocking new ways of approaching and building the future. Brandenburger, of Stern School of Business and Programme Director of Creativity and Innovation at NYU Shanghai, says that the greatest artists, entrepreneurs, and creators of all time generate insights that enable them to change the world because of this exact skill, seeing differently, breaking things up into pieces and putting them back into the whole, observing, not just examining.
What contribution will you bring to the building of the future? What can you see that others miss?
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