Observations on observing

“It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.”
This quote by Henry David Thoreau was used to kick off Justen Ahren’s presentation at the Columbus Society of Communication Arts gathering. Justen is the principal founder of Rule29, a design and communications company whose mantra is “We Believe in Making Creative Matter.” Seven years ago, Rule29 shifted their focus to projects improving the human condition and a slew of like-minded clients and great work ensued. Their methodology is based on “not what we see…but rather how we see” with emphasis on awareness, observation, and empathy; tenants shared by the ubiquitous Design Thinking movement. As the Rule29 team observes, the ability to translate hidden truths into expressions everyone can understand is essential to communication that touches the human spirit.

How critical is an accurate and empathetic observation? Let’s tick off a few quotes by some notable thought leaders.

“Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the worl29Degreesd and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” – Tony Robbins

“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one can do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home and love, and understanding companionship.” – Amelia Earhart

“The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.” – David Foster Wallace

This last quote was part of an inspirational commencement speech given by the late Mr. Wallace on YouTube. David was one of the most gifted and insightful authors of his time and the heartfelt life lessons he shared with Kenyon College graduates applies to all of us.

As the need for empathetic and mindful observation grows, our attention spans are being challenged and reduced by increased media consumption and digital lifestyles. A recent report by Microsoft showed the average human attention span fell from 12 seconds in 2000, to eight seconds in 2013. The decrease coincides with the introduction of advanced mobile technology and the search for for more meaning and less stress in the media-driven lives of Silicon Valley Technorati. As a result, there is now a cult-like following of MINDFULNESS, or “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” So much so, that even the emperor of new media, Google, famously provides Mindfulness Training to their employees as part of their “Search Within Yourself” program.

Digital lifestyles will increasingly put pressure on our ability to “see” and we will need to be more mindful about our mindless activity. When you look at a Twitter feed, what comes to mind? What are you seeing?

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