A Brief History of Looking

In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton published his Law of Universal Gravitation. Was it a result of the famous (even if not really recorded) event of an apple falling down from a tree he was sitting under, or was it a result of a long process of observing how objects, whether they are in space or on earth, behave? No one can really tell for sure. One thing is clear, though: no person on the face of the earth (at least no one we know of) could imagine a force such as gravity exists, although apples were freely falling from trees since the dawn of time.

Picasso has started his way as a realistic painter. But in 1907 he created a painting in a style never seen before. The subjects of that painting seemed to be distorted, as if they were broken to pieces and built up again. The painting didn’t try to imitate reality or create a decent reproduction of what Picasso physically saw. Instead, Picasso gave reality a different interpretation. He created this work using raw materials from reality, but gave them a new life.

In 1941 George de Mestral came back from a walk in the woods when he noticed that his dog’s fur was covered with burrs. When he examined the burrs closely he discovered a pattern that looked like small hooks, and decided to try and apply it to day-to-day uses. Almost two decades later he introduced his invention and its commercial application to the world: Velcro.

There’s at least one thing in common among these three people and many others who create, invent, and discover. They started with observing the world with their unique view, seeing things like no one else did, and then they built upon their observations – they used them as raw material for creating something new.

Most people didn’t give falling apples a second thought. Most people see other people as they are and didn’t imagine them as dismantled cubic parts. And generation of people walking in the woods just treated burrs as nuisance, never imagining they can change the world. Mindfully looking around, imagining, asking, wondering, or simply being amazed with what you see, is at the core of every creation, invention, and original thought. It’s hard to imagine any of these creations being made if Newton, Picasso, or Mestral would have isolated themselves from the world, looking only at a blank piece of paper at their desk.

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of techniques and strategies for Creative Thinking, which try to formulate or provide concrete tools for solving problems or innovating. But at the foundation of all of them there is one core capability we are all born with, but as we grow up it becomes less and less trivial to apply: truly and deeply observing the world.

There’s so much to see around us, and we can never know what it is that will lead us to the next great idea… or just make us smile. And gaining back this core ability, this gift, is possible. Amazingly, it’s not that hard. And best of all: it’s pure fun.

How? Well… seempli 🙂

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