Odd things can happen when hanging out with those who don’t act right, like you. I got unexpected insights when, with two friends, I walked through the Steins Collection of paintings by Matissse, Picasso and other avant-garde painters in bohemian Paris.
In most every gallery room one friend would sit on the bench in the middle of the gallery, then casually look down. I didn’t understand at first. He was deep in thought, I surmised at first. Yet actually he was closely observing the shoes people were wearing, and there was a wild variety in this art-loving crowd.
Otherwise I might not have noticed that one doesn’t see many shoes in these paintings. Faces appear more often. Yet, when looking at a Picasso, my friend was immediately reminded of shoes he’d seen just before we’d entered the museum.
Meanwhile my other friend would describe the emotions he saw in faces in the paintings, and on people around us, commenting on their possible personalities. As you probably anticipated by now, what my friends saw — and did not see — depended on the lens through which they viewed the world. One friend is a shoe designer, visiting from Milan. The other is a trial lawyer who is accustomed to sizing up clients, judges, witnesses and potential jurors. Sharing that experience through their eyes was a considerably richer, more multi-faceted experience. In fact, when we continued our lively conversation over coffee in the adjacent café, two pediatricians at a nearby table, in town for conference, joined in the conversation.
Discover Lessons for Not Living a Narrow Life
Forget passive entertainment and learning. Would you like to live a more adventuresome life where you:
• Stumble across new ideas that dovetail with the life you want to lead yet didn’t realize it until you experienced “scenes” you want to repeat?
• Attract serendipitous opportunities?
• Have meaningful conversations with acquaintances that sometimes become friends?
• Create your own fun with others?
1. Overcome Attention Blindness
We tend to see life through the lens of our work and life experiences. That means we miss a lot. “As long as we focus on the object we know, we will miss the new one we need to see,” says Cathy Davidson, author of Now You See it.
2. See How Differences Can Spur Fresh Insights and Innovation
One fun way to overcome that blindness is to share new experiences with individuals quite different than you in work, life experience, temperament and values. The color commentary you share as you see that art exhibit together, or prototype a new product or collectively plan an event or place can broaden the landscape you see in the moment and for the rest of your lives.
Even better, if you share a sweet a spot of mutual interest in the activity you and your colleagues may nudge each other into staying connected and even co-creating something new. That sweet spot can be strong glue for your group. As The Difference author, Scott E. Page, and Group Genius author Keith Sawyer both discovered, a small, diverse group can collectively innovate better than a team of of individuals with more similarities than differences. If my two friends and I had realized that we were all fascinated by design and human behavior we could have discussed that upfront, before entering the museum and perhaps had an even more meaningful time – explicitly speaking to those share sweet spots of mutual interest. We do now when we seek out new experiences to share.
When engaged in conversation with individuals who do not know you, as we did in the museum café, you can express ideas that close friends might dispute or even not hear because they do not expect them from you. YAs Melinda Blau explained in Consequential Strangers, this gives you the opportunity to deepen a facet of your character or explore a latent interest when in lively conversation with people who have no preconceived expectations of you.
5. Seek Out Those From Whom You May Learn the Most
The kind of individual from whom you can learn the most is also an ideal kind of dinner guest or committee member or teammate. That person is T-shaped, as Collaboration author Morten Hansen somewhat antiseptically describes this priceless trait for our increasingly complex yet connected world. Such individuals have both a deep mastery of a topic (the vertical line of a “T”) and an open, curious mind — they enjoy learning from others (the horizontal line of the “T”). I am presuming they also tend to have a flexible rather than a fixed mindset.
A gentle warning here. Even when we see ourselves — and our colleagues in front of us — as open and curious people we don’t act right around each other.
6. Hone Your Capacity to Thrive Around People Who Don’t Act Right – Like You
Since our assets spring from different outlooks, it behooves us to keep reminding each other:
• We do not see the same situation the same way
• “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” ~ Niels Bohr
• We get to be learners and teachers for each other, and that means changing roles more often than we do in most situations, an uncomfortable behavioral shift for many of us.
• Some individuals are givers more than takers, others are the reverse. Yet to enjoy the next chapter of your life story with more disparate characters in it – the most likely path to greater adventure, you must become — and be in the company of — people who want more or less equal give and take over time. Absent that factor power is not perceived to be equally shared that that inevitably creates conflict as the classic Tit for Tat game studies proved.
That’s a different discipline.
It takes practice and patience. I am not good at it yet am eager to keep learning.
What ways have you learned to see the world in fresh ways, through your experiences with others? I’d love to know.