The Power of Observation

During one of my recent lectures on Biophilia, a compelling question was asked, "How can we learn to be more observant? Is there a class or special training?" I immediately thought of Michael Gelb's book on "How to think like Leonardo da Vinci" and dusted it off my bookcase. Yes, it's an excellent place to start, and Leonardo is often my go-to for tough questions such as this one. One of the master's most extraordinary skills was his intuitive ability to observe the world around him. I find Leonardo frequently sharing his genius in solving critical issues that still challenge us today. Leonardo was a genius at observation.

Observation is a key to curiosity, and likewise, curiosity also empowers observation. These skills are powerfully interconnected. Observation is not a magical talent that only a few gifted people possess. Observation is within all of us if we only choose to see it and use it. Babies are essentially born curious, nurtured by their power of observation, and fed by the toddlers' endless streams of questions why mommy? Then… curiosity and observation give way to brainpower and devices.

The power of observation is simply paying attention to the world around us, be it in the micro or macro setting, seeing patterns, forms, or actions, and then recording what you experience. Although it may be a simple skill, it is often hard to do in our complex environment with voluminous distractions vying for our attention. Observation is not just data collection with one's mind, but it is multi-faceted experience immersion calling on your senses to help connect the observed. Then you start to see the unseen, ask questions, ask more questions, then… you are swept down the rabbit hole and, on well on your way, to observing what few others see.

Leonardo DaVinci lived this way. He walked around town with his notebook and observed and noted people's facial expressions and related it to emotions. He watched dragonflies and saw they had four wings, but he observed that each wing moved independently. One moved faster; the other moved upward and another in a downswing! Why?

We may never reach the greatness of Leonardo. Still, we can all be more observant of the environment around us and become more intelligent and enjoy the curious, sometimes weird, humorous, and beautiful world we live in by paying attention.

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