3 min read

Yesterday I went for a trail run at the Scioto Audobon Metro Park with the intention of paying attention. I’ve always considered myself to be “detail-oriented,” but lately I’ve realized how often I have blinders on.

It was a much more beautiful day than this photo looks, but I never claimed to be a photographer.

On my run, I stopped at a deck overlooking the river. I was proud when standing and looking out at the water, one of the first things I noticed was the red and white fishing lure in the tree on the right.

Paying attention and noticing things around you is key to identifying and solving problems. And, it’s more rare than you might think. Below is a quote from Slack founder Stewart Butterfield from a recent interview with Y Combinator’s Startup School that I really loved:

I don’t know if this works for other people, but I would definitely look at my own experiences as a consumer, generally, because it’s really easy for me to see things that are frustrating. I complain about stuff a lot, especially given how good my life is. My life is really good and yet every time I have to fly somewhere, I have at least 10 significant complaints and 50 minor complaints.

And every one of those is an opportunity. Every one of those things that don’t go as well as you would like are opportunities for improvement and some of those seem like someone else should see them and it should be really obvious, but they’re often not.

There’s this story I tell in our internal onboarding process of me and our head of project design going for a walk in Vancouver. And our office in Vancouver is in neighborhood that’s really narrow, so I’d walk, sidewalks have sandwich boards from vendors out so it’s very crowded, you kind of wind around, and so it starts raining while we’re on this walk and maybe two thirds of people had umbrellas with them and we didn’t and people are walking towards us on the sidewalk and almost no one would  move their umbrella out of the way so that the pocky things wouldn’t get us in the eye.

Like I said, the sidewalks were very narrow so we had to keep on ducking. I can come up with many explanations for why this would be…but then there’s really only two explanations.

One is that they just walk through the world and they don’t see that we’re going like this to get away from an umbrella, even though inevitably they had that experience themselves, or they see that this is happening and they’re like, “I just can’t think of anything I can do to ameliorate the situation.”

Despite the fact that it’s this, it is tiny, like a hundredth of a calorie worth of effort and a tiny amount of consideration and the point of telling that story is that that’s the way, this is a sad way of looking at the world, but that’s the way that most people go through the world, they’re oblivious to the problems that other people have and if they notice the problems, they’re unable to come up with any kind of solution.

Two thirds of the people just didn’t tilt their umbrellas, which means that if you’re the kind of person who’s willing to tilt your umbrella, there’s a whole world of opportunity out there. (full interview)

The more you notice things around you, the more present you become. By recalibrating your mind to be engaged in the world immediately around you, you can mitigate the trap of constantly being focused on the next move.

It sounds small, but it’s been a valuable exercise.

How To Pay Attention: 20 Ways To Win The War Against Seeing