Reflection on perspectives

Posted on April 24, 2013


When I was doing an internship at a big design firm in Stockholm, a degree student asked for some help to test his concept prototype. This prototype was a white plastic cube with one button on it. Inside the cube was a bunch of sensors and LED lights. We had to figure out what this cube did first of all so we pushed the button, twisted and turned the cube, shook it etc. We soon realized that the cube could perform a specific set of light responses, depending on what was done to it. So for instance pushing the button while turning it upside down gave a blue light, pushing the button repeatedly tree times gave a pulsating yellow light etc. We explored all the actions that could be made and made sure we understood what lead to what. After that we introduced the cube to the rest of the staff at the afternoon coffee break. They were just told to play with it and see if they could figure out how to turn some lights on. I observed the group, ca 15 people, while they flipped, shook, swung and pushed the cube. They managed to make the cube light up in several ways, but the interesting thing was their conclusions around what had been the triggering factor for the lights turning on. They did several motions and actions at the same time so most of the time they actually came to the wrong conclusion for what it was that made the light come on. For instance, someone shook the cube in a wide motion while holding the button and the light turned blue. He thought that it was the button holding and the shaking that did it, but I knew it was just a single push and turning it upside down that did it. The guy testing it didn’t really notice all the different things he was actually doing to it.
I observed this behavior several times and it really gave me an epiphany. This behavior happens all the time in life. We do complex things and then we draw conclusions from them. All of our behaviors, all of our actions towards ourselves and others. The same problem occurs in real life. We think that it was this one thing we said that caused the other persons reaction, or we think that a specific way of thinking is the reason for your success, but the truth might be something completely different. I think the same thing happens in science too and in a lot of studies that are being made. You test something, see reactions to what you’re testing and draw conclusions from it. How often are those conclusions wrong?
How often do we actually critically look at all the aspects that could affect an outcome?
This is for sure a situation when it is valuable to understand programing code. When you write code you have to basically specify everything. You can’t just say “put a square in the left corner”. You have to tell the computer what a square is, what it consists of, what color it is and how big is it suppose to be. Then you also have to define where the left corner is. When you write code for an action that should take place, you have to define everything about that too. Code really makes you understand everything that goes into even the simplest of objects and actions. This attention to details should be used in our everyday life as well. We draw quick conclusions way to fast some times and the concept of “common sense” is really just an illusion. We also see what we want to see and what we’ve been trained to see.

But you can train yourself to see what is really there. From my experience with learning how to draw, I’ve learned to look at the world and its objects as they really are. When someone draws a person for example, who doesn’t draw regularly, he/she tends to draw lines that define the boarders of the mouth, eyes and nose. In reality that is not how it looks. There’s no lines there. There’s simply just different toned surfaces that meet. There’s small and big shadows that define the shapes of the face. There’s not really that many lines there. So why do we draw them?
We draw them because that is what we’ve seen others do and we are trying to simplify the face. We are not drawing the actual face, we are drawing the symbol of a face. Each part of the face as it’s own object placed where they should be placed in general. Take a look at your own face in the mirror. Pay attention to how different parts actually look and how they connect to each other, where one begins and one ends.

It is hard to see and be aware of the things that are actually present in a situation. You can do a similar observation with a situation you’re in. Try to write it down and be matter of fact. What happened, step by step?
What and who was involved?
Take it to a super dumbed down level. Describe even the things that you other wise take for granted. Try to see if you get more clarity and see cause and reaction patterns that you didn’t notice before.
Another exercise you could do to help yourself with broadening your perspective is to take a situation where you’ve drawn a conclusion about something. Maybe it’s you’re co-worker who said something you were offended by and you have come to the conclusion that he/she is an asshole and enjoys stepping on others. Try to see if you cold come up with other possible reasons for why that persons said what he/she said. List as many as possible. Really try to broaden your perspective on the situation. See it as a creative storytelling exercise. What could have lead to that behavior? Was is really ill intentions? Could it be insecurities, different sense of humor, miss heard words etc.

We tend to try and make it easy for ourselves. We use our earlier experiences to help us come to conclusions faster and the more often we see specific behaviors and situations, they either reinforces the conclusions you regularly make or dismantles them. For our own peace of mind we tend to go more towards reinforcements rather than dismantling. This can become a really bad and dangerous habit. It is easy to draw conclusions way to fast and there by make the wrong conclusions. When it comes to real life situations, there’s never just one simple answers or one simple reason for why something happened and we have to stop acting as if there is one.
The least thing we could do is to acknowledge one other perspective of a situation I think.