Sunday, February 14, 2010

Synaesthesia: Learning to See with Your Heart

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
A. St Exupery, Le Petit Prince

How do you see something that cannot be seen? We often try to answer that by discovering new ways to make something visible. There's a better answer. If you cannot see it, perhaps it's because you are looking for information through the wrong system. If it can't be seen, maybe it should be explored with your ears or your heart (kinaesthetics of emotion) or your physiology (touch and internal sensation). Maybe you are attacking a problem with logic that would be better approached through design thinking (as described by Roger Martin). Switching your perceptual system might yield faster, better results than working harder or digging deeper.

Switching perceptual systems can be learned, practiced and developed as a skill. Everyone does it naturally some of the time; most people never work at moving from what they know best and what works most often for them. That's why, eventually, most people get stuck. They come to a point that requires they explore an alternative way of perceiving, and they don't want to go down that road. This is as true of the artist who refuses to meet deadlines and manage money as it is of the hard-line manager who seems to have had an imagination amputation.

Learning to see with your heart does not always mean learning that your emotions are also a way of perceiving and responding to information (thinking). It doesn't always mean exploring the way that all beings are woven into a single cloth. It doesn't mean being nice (although that is - well - nice). It means learning that you can switch from one perceptual system to another in order to get new information.

We teach people to listen with their eyes, to see with their bodies, and to feel the rhythms or tensions that they hear. When they do these things, they develop a richer, more layered description of the goals and problems that engage their attention. They notice more because they notice differences. And with that information, they also notice and create new choices.

Teaching to see with your heart doesn't sound like hard-nosed, practical advice. It is.

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