Six tips to sharpen your powers of observation
It takes practice and understanding to develop your observational skillset. Here is a list of exercises and insights designed to help you get started!
Based on Look: A practical guide for improving your observational skills by James H. Gilmore (Greenleaf, February 2017).
1/ Use binoculars to see the big picture
Use this exercise to develop your skill at looking with binoculars:
Go to a magazine rack. Pick a vantage point from which to observe how other people browse the various sections.
Come closer to the rack and survey the different categories and subcategories of magazines, slowly walking the full length of the display. Be sure not to pick up any of the individual magazines yet.
Circle back and this time scan for any magazine titles or cover art that jump out at you. Don’t read any of the covers too closely.
Ask yourself: what previously unfamiliar interests or ideas or consumer behaviors have struck your interest?
Once you finish surveying the entire rack, grab a copy of the magazine that you find most intriguing. Pick out a new discovery, not a magazine that you might have chosen anyway, even without this exercise.
2/ Use bifocals to look with a fresh perspective
When you are familiar with some place or thing, when everything seems the same, or when you are bored, it can be helpful to adopt different views of the same idea, scene, or situation and alternate between them to compare and contrast.
Grab a box of cereal and put it in front of you. Before starting, remind yourself that you aren’t looking for details: avoid focusing on one feature or shifting from one detail to another.
Bounce from the front side of the box to the back and compare and contrast the different elements of the packaging found on each side.
Notice differences: How are design elements presented differently (fonts, artwork, logos, colors, and so on)? What is present on one side but missing on the other?
Now do the same flipping and observing between the box top and bottom. Keep flipping and looking.
Next, flip between the left and right panels of the box. Look for more contrasting elements by flipping and looking.
Make a list of the contrasts that you found.
3/ Use a magnifying glass to get a closer look
It is helpful to look carefully at only one detail when you are in a hurry, when overwhelmed with details, or when you know what you to find but can’t find it. To develop your skill this kind of looking:
Get comfortable with quickly and immediately spotting the first detail that jumps out at you: Practice this skill by taking a marker and sitting down with a merchandise catalogue. Flip through each page and, after each flip, circle the one item on the page that grabs your attention. Don’t turn the pages too quickly, but also don’t think too much about each choice.
Excerpt from Business Digest N°309, September 2020
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