Learning to See

I was working with a PBS station in the Mid Atlantic. They were planning to update their control room and studio and had been bombarded with sales people telling them what switcher (the heart of the production process, for those of you not in live television.) I thought he should go with.

“I don’t know.” I told him.

That was not the answer he was expecting and he asked me why not. “It’s simple” ,I told him. “I don’t know enough about how you work.”.

He was a little indignant. He had just spent an hour telling me about their process, explaining the things they wanted to be able to do. “That’s a good start,” I said. “But I want to sit and watch you work. I will learn more about what you need in a couple of days of watching than in anything you tell me.”

So that is what I did. I just sat and watched how they did things. I got to see, first-hand, the bottlenecks. the things that worked, the conversation that revealed what people loved and hated about what they were doing. I ate lunch and talked about things that don’t show up on spec sheets and marketing materials. I was able to tell them with confidence what was the right switcher (For the record, that one was a Ross Video switcher.).

Years later, my client still tells me how happy he was with the decision, and how he loved how I saw things he did not see.

Seeing.

I have often thought it would be interesting to do a class on “learning to see.” There could be a technology version, a business version, and an artists/personal version. Each would have some aspects that would be unique to their work, but there are a few things that they would have in common.

  • Seeing takes time – Sherlock Holmes aside, to actually see what is going on in a situation takes time. We can see things on a surface level in an instant. But to see what is going on underneath takes time. Too often though, in television, in business, and in our own lives, we don’t take the time to look at anything but the surface. Sustainable success though, only comes when we see how things connect and interact, and often that is not obvious at first. In fact, I find that often my first impression of the solution, be it in technology, business, marketing or coaching, is wrong. But time watching and learning helps me get to the right place for me and my clients.
  • Seeing takes mindfulness. Yes, we can see the surface without thinking, without examining what we are seeing. But to see the things that make the difference between “it works” to “It works perfectly for me.” takes being very conscious and thinking as well as merely seeing. In my work, and in life, it’s about helping people find solutions that don’t just work, but that are a good long-term fit, and that means watching with my brain engaged, constantly ask myself what I am seeing.
  • Seeing looks for connections. – Nothing in our world lives as an island any more. Anything we buy, use or do intersects with other things. Other equipment, other people, other elements of our internal psyche. If you haven’t seen a rich web of connections, you haven’t seen yet.

Most people don’t have the patience to see, I have learned. We are happy with our vision, our ideas. We want to be right more than we want to get it right. And not seeing doesn’t mean everything goes wrong. Far from it. But, if we don’t just want a system, a business process, our lives, our art to just be OK, but instead want it to be something wonderfully right, we have to learn to see.

Some day I might actually create a learning to see workshop, but till then, just remember, take the time, be mindful, look for connections and you will be on your way.

Be well, travel wisely,

Tom

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