David Baker discusses how changing your perspective positively can impact your organization.
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Having been away from work for three full months, I’d like to talk to you a little bit about perspective. The CEO’s ability to step back and gain perspective is crucial in running a business. Pixar Studios gives us a great example of this. Pixar can hire the best animation talent in the world, but they do something that’s very unique. Even with the most talented artists in the world, they hire trainers to teach them to draw. Now, it’s not to really teach them to draw because, of course, they’re already very talented artists. What they’re really teaching them to do when they’re teaching drawing is relearning the art of perspective.
The art of drawing means you’ve got to put things in proper relationship to each other with the right emphasis on the right things. Learning to draw teaches how to put things in the right order. To be a great animator what Pixar’s understood is you’ve got to learn to not let the eyes fool the mind and you’ve got to put things in the right order, gaining perspective. So, Pixar teaches people to draw to gain perspective. They learn what they need to let go of, what they need to stop hanging on to, and it is in this letting go that people learn to see all kinds of new opportunities and become the best of animators, which is especially poignant to the CEO because what you believe, what you choose to be true influences the whole of the company you lead. If you stay too close to the problems, if the challenges are too near for too long a time, that’s what we tend to focus on and then we miss out on all of the opportunities.
There’s a widely circulated exercise showing a paragraph of badly misspelled words. Just Google ‘Cambridge University’ and ‘jumbled words’ and you can find it. What this exercise shows us is that it doesn’t matter how badly words are spelled as long as there’s the right number of letters and they’re grouped together. Our minds rearrange the letters and tells us what the word is and it makes it easy to read. This happens because our brains work so fast based on the patterns that we’ve learned, we rearrange the information to give us the feedback and the information that we’re expecting. The learned patterns we have actually changes the way that we see things to give us the feedback back that we expect.
So, back to being a leader. If you find that you’re seeing the same things over and over again and really find yourself locked into a pattern, perhaps what you need is a change of perspective. We’re all familiar with the diagram of the old woman and the young lady. It’s a single drawing, but when you see it you either see the young woman or you see the old lady and once you’ve seen one of them it’s hard to see anything else. And so it is with our states of mind. Once we get locked into a single perspective, it’s hard to see anything else and change becomes tremendously difficult.
So, how is your state of mind? Do you tend to see opportunities that you’re excited to go after or just challenges that just look exhausting? What about when you see people struggling? Do you first see an opportunity to help them change and grow or do you see a need to change people? Perhaps it’s just a matter of perspective.
There’s an old proverb that says, “We don’t see things the way they are. We see things the way we are.” So, much like the optical example from earlier, a new perspective really won’t solve the problem or change the issue, but perhaps stepping back and giving ourselves time and space and developing a new perspective, it might just give us the opportunity to change. In that change, perhaps, we’ll find clarity that we didn’t have before and maybe, even an entirely new set of opportunities.