In your work as a facilitator and stewarding knowledge, nothing is more useful than being able to observe. Lessons and opportunities are constantly flying at us as we work, interact, share, argue, live. And most of these pass us by unobserved. They are quickly forgotten, replaced by the next thing clamouring for attention. The only help for it is someone who has learned to stop and perceive what is going on in order to see and learn something and bring it to the consideration of others. Such people are gifts to the groups they serve. The better you are as an observer, the more you can help the people you are with.
Ask any good photographer, reporter, cop, doctor, writer, soldier or salesman what makes them good. Right up there with the obvious stuff – knowing about their subject matter, technology, and tools – they might mention the ability to observe what is going on. I say “might” because it has probably become so ingrained and second nature that they are no longer aware they are doing it. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that they have become so finely attuned through years of practiced observation that they can now perceive signs and variations that others don’t even see and they also know what they can successfully filter out.
Learning to observe is becoming a key skill for managers and people who want to share knowledge and improve process. Jon Miller at www.GembaPantaRei.com describes the practice that many companies are using, called the “Gemba Walk.” They do something called “Standing in the circle.” You take a pen and a piece of paper with 30 lines on it, pick a spot, and stand there for 30 minutes looking for 30 things to that happen or than could be improved. Then pick one of the improvements and work to implement that. Then repeat. It is easy, fun, and interesting and really helps organizations improve. Because someone is taking the time to stop and observe.
People only see what they are prepared to see (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
I can’t think of anything that has been more important in my work in faciltiation and knowledge stewardship. I still practice in order to improve. Here are some things I do:
- When I have to do an interview or facilitate a meeting, I prepare a storyboard or script of questions I want to use and when. The value is not so much in the questions themselves as it is in rehearsing and thinking about what I will be doing. It frees me to be able to observe what is going on while having an external guide to keep me on track.
- When I am working with a group of any kind, I think about doing an AAR with them. I might never suggest it, but it helps me see.
- In my groups, we make visible the work we are doing (our “work in process”). That helps us see trends, observe what is going on in our work.
- When I read magazines or watch TV, I consciously look at how they use cues, messaging, images, and graphic elements in the commercials. Even though it annoys my wife, I talk with her about is going on. Certainly, it diffuses the influence of commercials!
- Taking Matt Brandon’s advice, I will go out with my simple digital camera to shoot specific types of subjects, what I can see.
- I write in my journal. Well, to be honest, I do this on occasion, giving myself a time and place to write what I observe. Sort of like the Stand in the Circle exercise. Writing is a great way to learn to listen.
- I ask questions of everyone. To learn not to be afraid of looking dumb. And to learn what other see.
- I am enjoying reading about design, such as Presentation Zen Design or Fast Company, because they help me see aesthetics, developing my vision.
I also find it fun to do observational practices with a buddy and then compare notes.
what we see depends mainly on what we look for (John Lubbock)
What do you do?
If you want to be a good facilitator or an effective servant helping teams to steward knowledge, then grow in your powers of observation. Become more of a professional. You will be richer for it.