Observe The Art Of Perception

Amy Herman teaches people how to see and say what matters… using art.

Case in point: Herman, speaking at the recent IHA Chief Housewares Executive SuperSession (CHESS), asked the audience to pair up, with one person describing to an eyes-shut partner a painting of a bridge. Then the partners, eyes open, were asked to pick the described painting from four similar images. None of the describers had noted a partial white border on the correct image, a suddenly obvious distinction that would have simplified its identification.

Trained To See

During the many times Herman has presented this exercise, only four people have described the white border, each of them Navy SEALs. “We’re trained to see every piece of information we have,” one of those SEALs told Herman.

What could be a life-or-death exercise for soldiers, Herman said, applies no less to the make-or-break decisions business leaders confront daily.

Art historian and professor Herman tours the country showing high-level decision makers in all walks of life how to sharpen their perception by examining artwork. The “Art of Perception”— as Herman calls her developmental workshop— uses works of art, she said, to “challenge assumptions and refresh the sense of critical inquiry.”

Elements within art, she proclaimed, often become much more evident only when you shift your perspective.

“Things hide in plain sight,” Herman said.

“How do you see potential in something other people reject? You have to change your visual data,” she continued. “This will help you, as leaders, see what other people don’t. You have to shift your perception constantly, because things change in your industry on a dime.”

Astute Leadership

Astute observation is only the first step to innovative leadership, Herman said. What you do with such insight, and how you communicate it to those who might not see it the same as you, can be even more critical to successful strategy.

“I want you to convert observable details into actionable knowledge,” Herman said. “So few things are 100% in your control. Choice of words is one of them. Every word counts. In business, when you say something, people aren’t just listening, they are relying on you.”

Eyes Wide Open

Herman began her CHESS presentation with a simple message that underscores her counsel: “Refrain from using ‘obviously’ and ‘clearly.’ Nothing is obvious, and even less is clear.”

People often approach Herman after her presentations to tell her she opened their eyes. The problem, according to her: They didn’t know their eyes were closed.

“Please don’t reach for what you want to see,” Herman advised as she concluded her program. “You are accountable every step of the way.”

Just ask any Navy SEAL.