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.