Are You a First-Rate Noticer?

A book review I recently read described the author as a "first rate noticer" because of the vivid detail displayed in his narrative descriptions of the characters and their surroundings. I liked that turn of phrase and have tried to be a first class noticer myself the past few months, particularly when in unfamiliar or international settings.

What does it take to be a first rate noticer? I've developed a short list of a few key characteristics.

Permeable boundaries in your range of attention. You can't be a first rate noticer if you diligently work out to block out stimuli. While we all periodically suffer from information overload, tuning out too much could eventually cause you to miss noticing something that would be personally or professionally valuable.

Intentionally being open to things you'd categorize merely as "Hmm … that's interesting." First rate noticing means keeping an eye out for things that may not provide an immediate answer to a situation you are trying to solve, but nonetheless strike you as being curious or interesting. In noticing these things, we might accidentally trigger some unanticipated connections that ultimately would be of value.

Patience to sit still. You can certainly be a decent noticer on the fly or while in motion, but some of the best connections may come from simply sitting still and absorbing all that is happening around you. Scientist Francesco Varela talked about this in terms of looking for versus letting come.

A willingness to be disturbed. Author Meg Wheatley has offered great commentary about the need to allow ourselves to be disturbed … by different perspectives, by diverse people, by unfamiliar situations. If we try to make everything fit into our pre-existing mental models versus allowing those models to be reshaped or completely reconfigured, we inhibit the learning we might otherwise enjoy.
Challenge yourself this week. Take 5 minutes each day to do nothing but sit still and notice your surroundings. You might be surprised at what interesting insights capture your attention. 

And because we each notice different things, be sure to make asking colleagues and customers about what are noticing a regular part of your conversation routine.  You'll be surprised at how much you can learn from such a simple question.


Joan Eisenstodt said...

I've never had a driver's license, intentionally. From my childhood on, I loved walking everywhere because I _could_ notice more - see things that one in a speeding car or on a fast bike couldn't. One of the reasons I prefer train travel is that I can see more tho' on a cloudless flight, I love noticing, observing communities below and wondering about how they formed, why, who lives there, who left and more.

If one is a first-rate noticer, what does one do w/ the questions about what has been noticed? Oh I do ask people questions when I can. Some just hate being disturbed after you've noticed something about which they might be able to tell you.

Yes, Jeffrey, being a first rate noticer makes life far richer!

Of course, some might say I'm really a "Gladys Kravitz" who is the neighborhood busy-body who sees all!

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Gladys Kravitz. That cracked me up, Joan.

Good question about what to do with the observations you experience from noticing. I suppose it always depends on our intention and whether we merely want to accumulate observations or if we are curious as to the meaning behind something we might be noticing.