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Career Tips: Seeing What Is Not There

I believe that our imagination is our most powerful trait because it leads to SO much.  And, I define creativity is the ability to see what isn’t there.  People with this ability can see the sculpture in the stone and the painting before it’s painted.

So what does this have to do with the you?

I’m going to gear this post more towards the workplace, but I think it still applies whether you’re talking to your family or watching a TED talk on Youtube.

If you’re in a corporate job like me, you sit in meetings, listen to presentations, read spreadsheets or manuals.  What do you think about while doing those things?  Do you listen attentively?  Do you think about what the material?  … or do you imagine and think about what isn’t there??!!

What? … like unicorns and gumdrops?  … not quite

Big Picture, Small Picture: When people are getting into the details, I try to think of the big picture.  Implications to other departments or people.  How it helps or hinders other projects going on.  It helps the group think of the long term or the broader implications of what they’re proposing.

On the reverse side, when they’re talking about hypothetical’s and getting too abstract, I try to think of the details.  They might be getting to clever and creating a project or process that isn’t sustainable because the details are too complex to implement.

Paradigm’s: The more paradigms you know the better you can do this.  For example, most company’s, projects, departments can be thought of as a coordination of People, Process and Technology.  So, if the discussion is focused more on technology, I can contribute by talking about people.  If the discussion is about people, I can think about what their missing on the process side.

Altitudes: I try to picture a meeting or discussion like as a flight.  There is a boarding, a take-off, a cruising altitude and a landing.  What this allows me to do is mentally remove myself from the discussion and look at how the “flight” is going.  Is it flight at the right altitude?  Is it going in the right direction?  Are the right people on-board?  What is the attitude of the passengers after that little bit of turbulence?  Do we need some humor to lighten the mood?


First, I don’t take the opposite view just for the sake of finding something to say.  I try to consider these things to help the conversation.  The more angles I can consider, the better chances I have of finding one that will help or steer the conversation in a useful way.

Second, courage and leadership are needed.  It often takes guts to turn a conversation that is going in one direction and either stopping it or turning it around.  Sometimes I have to interrupt people who are filibustering and not letting someone else talk.  Sometimes, I have to start to wrap up the conversation when people don’t realized we need to “come in of the landing”.  Sometimes I have to ask that we start over.

Third, diplomacy helps.  Introducing what isn’t already being discussed can throw off the discussion and be taken as disruptive at best and adversarial at worst.  Sometimes the added elements that I’m contributing help and sometimes they hurt the conversation based on their merits.  And sometimes they fail because of the timing and method I used to introduce them.

I know this post was a bit scattered but hopefully you find it helpful to think outside of each conversation you have, book you read or presentation you hear.  Because seeing what isn’t there allows us to create.

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