Thursday, 14 March 2013

Looking differently at familiar things

© 2012 Mark Buchanan

One of the paradoxes of human behaviour is that, the more familiar we become with things (or people) the less we notice them. We stop exploring and our understanding of them starts to fossilise. 

Deep down, we long for novelty and surprises but, at the same time, we crave the confidence and safety that come with familiarity.

Perhaps there is a way to provoke surprise and delight from the familiar, by finding a new way of looking at it.

We can do this literally, as I have done with the photo at the top of this page. 

It is a view of the centre of my hometown (Chester, in the UK), which has been photographed literally hundreds of thousands of times before.

Tourists love it but, to those of us who live here, it has long since faded into the background. We just don't notice it any more.

I found it fascinating, however, how much interest and conversation it provoked when I photoshopped this picture into a planet panorama.

The "strangeness" of the image made us all examine it in a new way and, as a result, new details caught our attention.

Of course, you don't have to go as extreme as a planet panorama if you don't want to. 

You could swap the picture you carry of your loved one(s) for a picture of just their eyes, or their hands and see how that makes you feel about them.

If you have a favourite photo as your computer (or mobile phone) wallpaper, try rotating it through 90 degrees and see if something new strikes you about it.

There are, also, some less literal ways we could apply this approach.

The next time you are having a product innovation meeting, why not start by asking your team members to list 5 things they hate about your product or service.

Or, list 3 things your competitors do better than you.

On a personal note, what is the one thing you would absolutely not want to have written on your tombstone?

That's an easy one for me - "He was predictable."

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