The Art of Noticing

Noticing is a skill which is seen as central to creative literacy. Could it also be that it is a practice which is critical to business success? I think that it is. The problem though with the rate of change happening faster than our ability to respond to it is that many of us just seem to want knuckle down and get on with it, using the well worn filters and models which worked in the past and pray they serve us well in the future. The challenge is that we are living in a world where "time sickness" (the belief that there is not enought time and that it running out for us) is a real anxiety generator and thus any extra time required to practice a way of seeing things differently is viewed by many as just too overwhelming. In an informal poll done with delegates on our executive education courses at UCT GSB, many stated that they were working longer hours, taking shorter breaks and multi tasking just to try and keep up with the sheer volume of information they were confronted with daily. As many of you will know, I am working on the notion of Curiosity as an enabler of learning and as a filter for our attention. But what of the art of noticing? What has become clear for me is that conscious noticing is not easy. It requires energy and practise. In it's own right, noticing is an act of attention. Noticing, like Curiosity, is an appreciating asset. What I am particularly interested in is the way in which how we notice things differently will start informing our own leadership practices.

It is my belief that other discplines often provide extraordinary insight for crafting and understanding questions we might not have fully birthed. In the current world of augmented reality, designers craft avatars and characters that live not in the full focus of one’s vision but to the side – at a glance (Slavin, 2009; Cerveny, 2009). This can be much more efficient than fully parallel approaches to pattern recognition. The art of the glance is a useful exercise to practice when attempting to notice things outside of one’s normal area of perception. In fact, according to Schmidhuber (1991), humans and other biological systems use sequential gaze shifts to detect and also recognise patterns. This peripheral vision gives rise to residual objects which exist alongside of us but which are seldom noticed. Simply put, what are you noticing from the corner of your eye that you would usually filter out, but could possibly give opportunities for seeing differently? How can this way of seeing improve your capacity as a leader - when so much of the literature tells us to have a clear and uninterrupted focus.

I don't have the answers to these questions but I am priviliged to be working with Dave Bond, who is the Director of the Leadership Centre at Ashridge Business School in the UK on a new three day programme entitled The Art of Noticing - Fresh Eyes for New Opportunities which will be run in October at the GSB and explore some of these challenges. 

I am genuinely excited by the possibilities this can generate for more effective leadership and the opportunities it can help us as leaders  generate in our own businesses and practices.