The Art of Observation...
February is a beautiful month to visit La Paz, Mexico. The air smells fresh, clean and cool, by Baja Standards, and yet you only need a sweatshirt in the evenings. It’s a nice respite from the rain of the Northwest. I’m here volunteering for a nonprofit organization called, Centro Mujeres, helping this dedicated group of people with branding and communications. It’s rewarding work, supporting human rights and social justice for women.
I have the afternoons off, so we head to the nearby beach of Tecolate where I like to look for seashells. During the winter, however, it is especially hard to find these tiny gems of beauty. My search this February proves quite challenging. But I persevere hoping to discover the hidden, tiny pieces of coral and spiral shells buried in the rubble of the sea debris.
And soon I am rewarded and fill my tiny bag. Inside it, I see a miniature and delicate world of tiny clam and limpet shells, brightened by shards of red coral. My process isn’t difficult: I sift through the sand carefully and capture the wonder of these shells. As I walk back to the palapa, I think of all the times I did not notice the simple little things around me basically because I wasn’t looking.
The work of nonprofits is especially demanding, and often there just isn’t the time or energy to stop, pause and take in the small pieces of the organization that sometimes seem humdrum. The work of an Executive Director is to see the big picture, the overarching strategy and vision. Yet pockets of great creativity surround us at neighboring desks and cubicles. There is so much to appreciate and value if we simple pause a moment and observe.
As a branding and marketing strategist, I am humbled to learn from skilled artists, illustrators and master storytellers, who notice the little things intuitively. A simple turn of a word to create compelling messaging, a singular sketched line that evokes the emotion of the concept--it seems to come so easy to them. And then there are the rest of us, a little more left-brained who have to work hard to see the patterns -- the ebb and flow of tiny things that together create beauty. For we are the more logical, analytical and objective types.
Which brings me to this suggestion... Today, let's challenge ourselves to open our eyes and notice the subtlety of things that work in concert to create harmony in our jobs. Let’s perfect the art of observation. Perhaps these 3 guidelines will help you:
1. Take the time to find patterns. Think forest and not individual trees, looking for the synergy and collective rhythm of things to find the big picture.
2. Notice the details that together create the whole. Each part contributes. Honor the role even tiny components play in your next strategic or project plan. But remember that alone they are only data points. The sum is greater than the individual parts.
3. Read about social intelligence and try to improve your skills. This means noticing the little things about your co-workers....eyes that sparkle when they are doing passionate work, but dull when stressed or burned-out. Subtle changes in behavior we need to notice if we care. Empathy makes a difference.
I guess the key is to open our eyes and our senses. Then, we will see the intricate weaving in the background waiting to be discovered and treasured, just like my shells on the beach of La Paz.