Friday, August 31, 2012

The fear, laziness, ignorance, and plain old difficulty of getting out of our own shoes

"I think that we’re so caught up in our worlds that if we want to make these quantum leaps we have to step out of the world a bit. It opens your eyes to the possibilities."

"The more you look outside the more you realize that some of the ways that we have defined what we study within the field aren’t necessarily getting at the right thing."

I'll leave these quotes anonymously sourced for now. They're from two psychologists-- the first, a personality psychologist, the second, a cognitive one. They're reflective of a growing appreciation of working in a cross-disciplinary fashion-- specifically going outside of psychology into business, computer science, and politics. 

The problem is the classic Rumsfeldian "unknown unknown"-- a now tired way of saying we don't really know that there is an outside of our field, or how to get there. 

It's hard to stray from a given path
  • Often you don't look for comparisons, because it doesn't occur to you that things could be another way. "Normal" is typically hard to define without comprehensive data. 
  • Other times different cultures (used broadly) speak different languages-- progress is challenging when we call the same things different names.  
  • Sometimes we're stubborn and resistant to different or dissenting views. 

How do you consciously take on a new perspective? Bob Metcalfe often gives the advice of taking a new route home-  consciously getting out of your routine and trying to notice something new.  My approach has always been proactively questioning definitions-- recognizing that concepts can be operationalized differently to prevent assumptions. 

Often in psychology experiments (and contextual inquiry), participants will be asked to wear cameras affixed on (not IN) their foreheads. This helps the researcher understand life from another perspective, very literally. 

Maria Montessori, whose birthday it is today, asks parents to think about life from the child's perspective by getting down on your hands and knees and exploring your home. 

Try it. I love how such a literal example can have such a huge impact. It's more surprising than it seems. Imagine if you did the equivalent of this with your work. What does your work look like to a psychologist? To a doctor? To a marketer? To something/ someone you're not? 


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