The art of noticing.


My daughter borrowed KooKoo Kookaburra by Gregg Driese from the school library last week (absolutely beautiful story) and as we were reading I came across this gem. You have two eyes, two ears and only one mouth. So you should look and listen twice as much as you speak. It was a key theme for the book and Zara and I spent a long while talking about the meaning. We talked about the importance of truly listening to people. Afterwards this conversation kept turning over in my head. In meetings or conversations, am I truly listening to the words and meaning or am I hearing and preparing to reply? How about you? In the busyness of life, it is so easy to forget.

The story reminded me of a great technique employed by IDEO in their Human Centred Design approach. It is called “Listening with your eyes”. The technique requires you spend time watching and truly observing and noticing. Noticing the detail, the interactions, the movements in your environment can tell you so much about a situation. Taking the time to notice the human detail in a situation can paint a really interesting picture. I spent time in a cafe and while it felt wierd and slightly voyeuristic, I did pick up on so much around me. There is so much detail if you take the time to notice. Take a minute to stop and just observe. What do you see? How do people interact? How do they move? What stands out? What subtle details can you see?

Ten years ago my brother passed away suddenly and time in my life stood still. Days went for weeks and weeks for months. Time crawled. I remember nearly every moment.  Since his death, it’s sad to say but there have been so many days that have gone by the wayside unnoticed. I wouldn’t say unmemorable just normal. We’ve all had that sensation. Think of a drive you’ve completed recently where you arrived at your destination and then realised that you didn’t remember a thing about getting there. Your brain was on autopilot. Now we need the autopilot in our lives but there is so much to see if we take the time to notice. When Kev died, I noticed the warmth of the sun more than ever. I still do. Whenever I run on a warm day and I’m listening to our shared taste in music, I feel like it’s a warm embrace. That sensation makes me feel like he’s running with me. When he passed, it was the middle of winter and there was a streak of hot days and so this sensation is really important to me. We were also inundated with butterflies. They were everywhere…..or maybe I just noticed them more because of my headspace. Whatever it was, the butterfly is a symbol that regularly catches my eye. My daughter even now calls butterflies Uncle Kev. Noticing the butterflies can change my mood in a heartbeat. For example, the other day I left my house in a stink of a mood and as I was closing the door, a butterfly landed on my shoulder and I had a moment with the universe.

In education, there is so much to notice if we take the time. Whether it’s how students transition between classes, the interactions between teachers and students in a classroom, the look on a child’s face, whatever it is, you can capture so much “real” data by stopping, looking and listening. Capturing this information can also help problem find and problem solve in your schools. I take a notebook everywhere with me so that I can write down the little details and this curation has assisted me so much with planning future strategy. NoTosh create Project Nests to capture this detail as it can lead to brilliant insights. For the team at Google Ventures, it contributes to the War room, a space to layout strategy and to see the whole playing field. This collection of field notes can help to provide the colour to a black and white problem and can allow for new and exciting innovations to develop. It can allow you to see what Amy Herman calls the “pertinent negative“, the details or behaviours that aren’t there. No matter what it is, there is much to gain from listening with your eyes.

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6 thoughts on “The art of noticing.

  1. Hi Steve,

    Long time between blog comments!

    Am reading your post and writing my reply as I sit in a local cafe with coffee and cake and watch the world walk by; it’s defiantly one of my favourite ways to pass time.

    Can I add that we can also run the risk of observing too much; that we can look and read and listen and observe and overthink but never take action based on our learning or observations.

    I know that I am often guilty of this and have been reflecting on this over the holidays. (aren’t holidays a great time to do that deep thinking).

    We also have two hands and two feet. I’m going to commit to using them more to be an active participant and turn what I see and hear into action.

    1. Hi Scott,

      Thanks for commenting and so good to hear from you. I agree that observing with the intention to do something with those insights is the best way forward but not often our default position. Pausing like you are doing in the cafe is so invaluable and really does help allow us to connect the dots. I look forward to seeing what action you take!

      Steve

  2. What an excellent post and one I admit I am guilty of “only hearing” rather than listening to others during meetings and sometimes conversations. Most of the time I too am thinking of ways to provide the perfect answer in reply and thinking of things I need to do once I have finished. Thank you for reinforcing the idea of the many different ways you can take words and ideas from others in. Cheers

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