Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Power of Observation

The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes. - Marcel Proust

When was the last time you spent thirty minutes not doing anything, but actively engaged in observing your surroundings? If you are like me, your first response is probably something along the lines of, “Thirty minutes uninterrupted?  You must be joking!”  My response would be similar if it weren’t for my current participation in “A Crash Course in Creativity,” an online course through Stanford Venture Lab taught by Tina Seelig.  We are only two weeks into the class and our second assignment was to take a silent thirty minute walk observing our surroundings.  Mentally, I had grand plans for how I would love to spend my 30 minutes of observation, but procrastinated until the last moment and improvised with a late night walk followed by a few minutes of sitting on our balcony.

Even though the night walk wasn’t what I had planned, I was still amazed by the power of observation.  I didn’t walk anywhere new, in fact it is a walk I have done countless times and yet was amazed by how “new” it felt when I truly paid attention to my surroundings. It was almost as though I was a visitor experiencing this walk for the first time.  Not unlike what David Kelley, founder of IDEO, recommends when he suggests that you think like a traveller.  When you travel to a new country you pay attention to every detail, delighting in the new smells, sights, & sounds of your location in a way you don’t at home.  David suggests that simply being acutely aware of your surroundings will help you spot more opportunities.  

This leaves me wondering what opportunities are present in our classrooms that we haven’t stopped to notice?  What would happen if we questioned all of our practices as though we were travellers?  What might we notice if we truly stopped and took a few minutes to observe the practices in our schools?   My guess is that we might not only notice opportunities but we might also begin venturing into new solutions.

For more on the power of Observation, here are a few video resources as presented to our class by Tina Seelig:
Think Like a Traveler by David Kelley, IDEO
Field Observations with Fresh Eyes by David Kelley, IDEO

Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction

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