Learning to Look at the World Through New Lenses

Virtually everyone I speak with says that their organizations would be better off if they were more adaptable, agile and comfortable with change and innovative.  Fair enough.

Most of us can also give a long list of reasons why these aspirations are so hard to accomplish: “Management doesn’t support us”; “Other departments don’t collaborate with us”; “We have meetings, but seldom find solutions upon which we can all agree”; and so forth.  In all my years of engaging people with this conversation I have yet to have someone explain that THEY were the problem.  That THEY were the one that was closed-minded, unwilling to compromise or to see things objectively.

It is vastly easier for us to lay the blame everywhere but at our own doorstep.

Now I wouldn’t suggest that all the impediments you may see to organizational change are probably real, may I suggest that the best place to start this struggle is with yourself.  You have complete control over yourself.  And, how on earth can you expect everyone else around you to change, if you are not capable of your own personal transformation.

Why We ARE the Problem.

Before trying to suggest solutions, let’s look first at what’s standing in the way.   For many of us who have been at our jobs for some time, we have a lot of experience, technical expertise and knowledge.  We are reasonably intelligent and have made plenty of  mistakes from which we have learned.  As a consequence of all that, we come to think of ourselves as “experts” . . . and we rightly should.


As a consequence of our experiences, we have learned many facts, seen a lot with our own eyes, formed thoughtful opinions, developed strong ideas about how the world works and developed complex mental models of predicted cause-and-effect for almost any new situation that arises.   Having these mental skills is vital to our survival in life.   But, therein lays the trap.

If you think about it, all of these mental models, opinions, beliefs and attitudes were formed from our accumulated life experiences.  These were all formed by looking backward . . . in space . . . and in time.   So picture yourself on the end of a caboose on a fast-moving train.  You are watching the scenery recede from your view, and you’re being asked to guess what it will look like out in front of the train! I am not saying there is no value in learning from the past, but surely the past is not necessarily a good predictor of the future state of anything in a dynamic, ever-changing world.

There is a ZEN concept related to conceptualization.    Conceptualization is the process by which we collect information from our senses (the raw data) and transform it into ideas.    Zen masters caution their students to recognize that our delusions become evident whenever we try to think, because the raw data can be perceived in many different ways.  Our existing karma (accumulated life experience that is returned to us), prejudices, beliefs and feelings filter the data and can often cause us to have incorrect perceptions.

So how do we get ourselves from this proverbial caboose to be up on top of the engine, standing on tippy-toes looking forward through high-powered binoculars into the future?

Looking at Things Like A Child Does

In response to this, it is helpful to develop the mindset that allows you to look at things, even familiar things, like people and situations, as if you were looking at them for the very first time.   In this way, you are suspending all you believe or think about it–all your preconceived notions–and focusing instead on finding new insights and things you may not have noticed before.   In this way you may generate new insights that improve your understanding.

Have you ever watched an infant or toddler play and interact with their world?  This bears some observation on all our parts.  Watch them play almost oblivious to our presence.   Try to imagine what they are thinking and feeling as they play, experiment, fail and try again at the myriad of tasks before them.   Such a child does not understand ego, does not yet have an “attitude,” is free from pride, arrogance and sureness.   Everything in their world is freshly seen and encountered as the Zen masters suggest.

This is the state of learning and growth we all could use more of even as (ESPECIALLY AS) we become cynical adults, who can be jaded and certain about so much.

Your natural tendency will be to return to all your long-held beliefs and attitudes, but if you can bring even some of your fresh new insights forward, you just might be marginally more open to new ideas.

This is not impossible to achieve, but it is perhaps a decidedly eastern way of thinking and being, which is practiced in Buddhism and Hinduism.

Tips from the ZEN Masters

There is a great reference below from Dr. Natalie Masson suggesting a list of 10 principles to become more Zen-like.  Here are some of my favorites.

1)      Present-moment focus – The mind can focus in so many directions:  past, present and future.   It is so powerful to be willing to suspend all you think you know from your past and focus instead – choosing to prioritize your awareness on that which is right in front of you.

2)      Non-judgment – To survive we learn how to take in new information, associate it with past experiences in our memory banks and then assign a label to it like dangerous, good, bad, right or wrong.   It is healthier, I think, to suspend judgment for a moment and simply observe your facts and situation reflecting on the sensations or thoughts without evaluating them.  You can form opinions later, after you have taken it all in, and milked from each situation the richness of insights and learning.

3)      Validation – Whatever we experience internally is valid. Period!   (Great advice for people in marriages, by the way). It is often unproductive to try to understand the reason or logic behind the experience.  Accept it as it is, and build on it.

4)      Tolerance – Our natural reaction when we experience something we don’t like (whether an experience or someone else’s ideas) is to reject or avoid them.    Try instead to tune in, not block out what’s going on and you just might find yourself becoming more tolerant for things you disagree with.

5)      Patience – Change, learning and growth are sometimes messy.   Sometimes when it seems too hard when trying to learn new things we retreat backwards toward our tried and true ways of thinking and acting.   We can generally benefit if we didn’t give up so easily.

Other Related Materials

Seeing Things Through a Child’s Eyes

Seeing the World Through a Child’s Eye  by Maria Bailey

10 Zen Principles to Help You Live Better (a tongue-in-cheek tome based on Zen Master – Yogi Berra), by Wayne C. Allen

Ten Principles for Cultivating Peace of Mind and Body, by Dr. Natalie Masson


Leave a comment

Filed under Innovation, Personal Leadership

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s