Sometimes the most helpful ideas are right in front of you, but you fail to notice them. Seeing — that is, perceiving with the eyes — is easy; observation — recognizing and understanding the data provided by your eyes — is much more difficult. You have to work at it, because observing is an acquired skill and it requires practice.
Observation is essential to understanding and creativity. For example, don’t just rely on what customers say they need. Watch the gyrations your customers go through in real settings when trying to use your product or service, rather than looking at the product itself.
When you observe the world around you with a keen eye and a “beginner’s mind” you begin to become aware of opportunities and possibilities that no one else is noticing, or are just taking for granted. This concept from Zen Buddhism, called shoshin, is about having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when observing a subject, just as a beginner would.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”[iii]
It is only through observation that you gain real insight.
[i] Tom Kelley, Currency/Doubleday, 2001, page 28
[ii] Henry David Thoreau, “the question is not what you look at, but what you see.” The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Journal II, Chapter VII, 5 August 1851, page 373
[iii] Shunryū Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Weatherhill, 1977, page 2
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