Tuesday, March 6, 2012
THE ART OF OF SHIFTING FOCUS & ENHANCING PERCEPTUAL SENSITIVITY
Recently, I have stumbled upon two interesting articles while surfing on the net. That's what I to like to call, serendipity at work!
One is 'The Kaleidoscope Mind: Some Easy Ways to Teach Creativity', by Laura Seargeant Richardson, a principal designer at frog design, a global innovation firm.
In a nut shell, the author defines a "kaleidoscope mind" as "a type of mind that is agile, flexible, self-aware, and informed by a diversity of experiences...
... It's a mind that is able to perceive any given situation from a multitude of perspectives at will - selecting from a rich repertoire of lenses or frameworks...
... a kaleidoscope mind is playful, and it must be able to "see patterns, connections, and relationships that more rigid minds miss... "
The few limited examples highlighted in the article to illustrate a "kaleidoscope mind" are certainly fascinating.
Here the link to the original article in The Atlantic, 26th November 2011.
The other article is 'To Move Your Business To A Higher Plane, Learn To Play 3-D Chess', by innovation strategist Kaihan Krippendorff. He is also the author of 'OutThink the Competition', among a few other good works.
In the article, the author draws some useful analogies from the fictional 3D game, which Mr Spock had played in exercising his mind, as featured in the 'Star Trek' television series, as well as a piece of strategem from the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, well-known for his 'Sun Tze Bing Fa' or better known internationally as 'The Art of War'.
The author's pertinent point is that, as a business professional, one must always see and think on multiple planes, at least from the standpoint of strategy formulation.
From Sun Tzu, the author advises how business professionals can transpose the three planes of the battlefield to the business arena:
- the "heaven" plane ~ the external marketing environment;
- the "man" plane ~ the internal environment within the company;
- the "ground" plane ~ the other players in the external environment, just like the five forcefields as propounded by global management consultant Michael Porter:
Next, he also throws some provoking questions to help you to plot your strategy from multiple planes:
1. Considering the "Heaven" plane:
What environmental factors should you be preparing for?
Consider four factors:
Macroeconomic trends. What will interest rates and GDP growth rates look like over the next five years?
Societal shifts. How will customer buying behaviors and needs change?
Technological innovations. Will the growth in cloud computing affect your industry? What other industry-specific advances are in the pipeline?
Regulatory shifts. Will regulation grow tighter or loosen in your industry over the next five years?
2. Considering the "Ground" Plane:
What will other players be doing over the next five years and how can you turn these possibilities to your advantage?
Consider at least four types of players:
Competition. Who are your top competitors and what do you think they will be doing over the next five years?
New entrants. What new competitors or competing products/services are likely to enter your market (e.g., from abroad or from another industry)?
Suppliers. How is your industry’s supply chain going to change? Are suppliers getting more powerful or less?
Distributors. Will your dependence on distributors grow or shrink? Will the need for distributors disappear as is happening in so many industries? How will your distributors’ needs and goals change over the next five years?
3. Considering the "Man" plane:
Define who you will be in two ways:
Vision: Describe what your ideal will look like.
Metrics: (this is often the hardest part). What one to three metrics can you use to define if you have achieved your vision? What numbers are consistent with you achieving your vision?
Here's the link to the original article in
In reality, I like to say that the two competent authors have given a new spin to what creativity guru Dr Edward de Bono had broached way back in the sixties or so.
In a nut shell, his central premise in lateral thinking as a tool for finding creative solutions actually boils down to shifting our focus and enhancing our perceptual sensitivity to the world around us.
According to the guru, what we choose to look at and where we direct our attention have a critical bearing on the initial perceptual phase of our productive thinking. This is because our brain follows only one direction: the direction of our current dominant thought.
So, how do we shift our focus?
By firstly, learning to embrace multiple perspectives, and, secondly, learning to switch between different perspectives, so that we don't get stuck in or from one viewpoint, especially when we are looking at the world out there or looking at a problem right in front of our face.
I recall one very interesting anecdote from Dr Edward de bono's books, but I can't recall which book was that. Nonetheless, for my purpose in this post, it serves as a good illustration of what I am talking about.
During the early years of space exploration, NASA engineers were focused on "developing a pen to write in zero gravity".
They apparently spent a lot of money on the research.
The Soviet engineers had the same dilemma. They were "looking for a writing implement to write in zero gravity".
They eventually found a quick and even a low-cost solution: the pencil.
Did they shift their focus?
Yes, and invariably, shifting focus comes in many forms.
We can take a helicopter view to see the forest, so to speak, or we can spin down for a closer tree-top or even ground-level view. Feeling the pulse of the ground, so to speak.
Or, we can just follow the examples as mentioned in the foregoing two articles.
Alternatively, I would suggest learning from strategy guru Prof Henry Mintzberg, who had propounded about "strategy formulation as a seeing process", way back in the mid-nineties, as follows:
[By the way, he is also the author of 'Strategy Safari', which describes the process.]
- seeing above; [as mentioned earlier, taking the helicopter view](*)
- seeing below; [as mentioned earlier, feeling the ground and exploring root causes]
- seeing sideways; [finding lateral solutions]
- seeing ahead; [making "flash-forward" casting]
- seeing beyond; [creating long-range scenario projections]
(*) Senior statesman Lee Kuan Yew once acknowledged this "perspective", while he was Singapore's Prime Minister for three decades, as "the helicopter ability: the ability to rise above the immediate scene and see it from a total and overall perspective" among his four principal criteria in selecting ministerial candidates for his cabinet.
I recall that Dr Ellen Langer of Harvard University, who wrote the classic, 'Mindfulness', and the 'Power of Mindful Learning', has once offered the following valuable suggestions in shifting focus:
Looking at what’s there to looking at what’s not there;
Seeking your conclusions to checking your assumptions;
Examining the various details to evaluating the overall concept;
Concern about your goals to regard for the entire process;
Focus on objects to focus on relationship between objects;
Looking at the object to looking at the surrounding space;
Listening to what’s said to discerning what’s not said;
To continue in sustaining the capability of shifting focus, one must also be open-minded to an entirely new way of doing things, like breaking old patterns, making unusual connections, challenging past assumptions, seeking curiosity and novelty, exploring like a kid (but don't be childish), playing with metaphors and analogies, asking naive (and more dumb) questions, respecting uncertainty, embracing ambiguity and entertaining paradox.
Interestingly, I reckon there is still another route we can take in shifting our focus.
We can use "reframing", which apparently has its origins in neuro-linguistics programming or NLP.
In a nut shell, "reframing" is just a simple process of changing the context or representation of a problem or issue at hand. That's to say, it is "shifting the meaning of" or "changing the way we think about" the problem or issue at hand.
This is because the meaning of anything that come into our path is found essentially in the mental frame within which we view it.
According to NLP experts, when we perceive something as a problem, that's the message we send to our brain. Then, the brain produces states in our body that make it a reality.
When we change our frame of reference by looking at the same problem from a different viewpoint, we can change our response to it.
More precisely, we can change our perception and/or representation about anything – object, event or process, situation, circumstance, people, idea – by according it a different meaning, and thus, allowing us to take a different approach and giving us new possibilities for the actions that we might take and the responses we might execute.
I will touch on the possible "reframing" strategies, not necessarily from the NLP perspective, which we can take in a separate blogpost, otherwise this blogpost will be too long.
Collectively, all these interesting ideas and novel approaches as mentioned above are designed to help one to expand mental horizons as well as to enhance perceptual sensitivity, and the diligent application of the approaches will eventually lead one to the formulation of productive strategies.
Enjoy your exploration and assimilation!