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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Perspective Reorientation Techniques

“We are near-sighted until we open up to new perspectives, different habits, and creative ways.”

I regularly tweet about the benefits of taking on different perspectives and the above was one of my latest ones on this topic.  I wrote an earlier post on this blog called “Broadening your perspective, looking with new eyes.” So why do I address this topic again?

Situation one: Swapping one prisoner for about a thousand prisoners amongst which are people who have been accused of involvement in terrorist activities. Is this fair, does it make sense, do you perceive any balance in this deal? Your answers will depend on the perspective you take which goes far beyond supporting one group or the other. Your perspective can be based on the desire to influence your own domestic audience, on personal experiences related to terrorism, on the perceived long term political benefits of this transaction and much more. There are many perspectives to choose from, but the question is: Do you really choose?

Another situation, a little different than the first one to say the least: Two children are fighting over a toy. What perspective do you take and what role do you assume? Do you act as a referee and solve the problem for them? Do you create the conditions for them to learn to solve these issues themselves? Do you take the toy away and punish both children? What perspective do you take, which role do you assume, what are your guiding values and principles?

Situation three: A company’s executive team decides to hunker down and invest very conservatively despite the company’s strong financial health. Whether you understand and agree with this decision depends on many factors, including the perspective you take. One of the factors influencing your perspective is your role within the company. Are you the CFO looking out for the long-term health of the company? Are you a plant manager ready to invest in modern technology to increase quality and production? Are you a sales representative worried about job security? Perspectives are very personal and generally valid, no matter how contradictory they appear.

Taking on different perspectives is switching between long term and short term, switching between prosecutor and defense lawyer, switching between Jekyll and Hyde, switching between executive and floor perspective and many more subtle switches. Taking on different perspectives enables you to broaden your view, to see things with different eyes, to switch between short term and long term goals and gains, to create more approaches, and to find and use more than one way of relating to people, situations, and the world. Wouldn’t that be great!

But how do you do ensure using multiple perspectives? I had to laugh about the term “Perspective Reorientation Techniques” on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network recently, but I guess that’s what they could be called. It’s not rocket science in any way. Just some reminders on how to take off your own coat, see with new eyes, and move to previously uncharted territory and perspectives that potentially hold new information and possibilities. I strive for you to benefit from my seven ideas for creating and using multiple perspectives:

1.    The empty chair technique, borrowed from the world of therapy and maybe most often used in Gestalt therapy. This technique is used in two ways. First, for the client to address the person she is focusing on as if he were sitting on that chair. But more significantly, the empty chair technique asks you to step in someone else’s shoes and put on their clothes and glasses to see things from their perspective. Or from what we believe to be their perspective. So the client moves from his own chair (and thus perspective) to the empty chair and is asked to think and talk from the other person’s perspective –thinking and talking like you expect the other person to think and talk including how she could possibly perceive you.
2.    The well-known devil’s advocate, possibly more used in group discussions and in decision making processes but also useful when aiming to broaden your perspective. In groups generally one member plays the devil’s advocate to the potential opinion or decision by stating all the opposite possibilities, which can help prevent "groupthink". As perspective reorientation technique you can play prosecutor and defense lawyer, hereby practicing the devil’s advocate against your own most preferred perspective.
3.    The bigger-picture perspective:  It is exactly what it sounds like, looking at the bigger picture, going beyond and behind the immediate goal or hurdle and looking at the longer term situation, prospect, objectives and at the company or society at large. I’m talking about taking a macro instead of a micro perspective. Realizing that today’s challenges are often tomorrows building stones and vice versa.
4.    The ‘Me First’ perspective: This is not a plea for inflated ego-orientation but a plea for looking in the mirror before you look at, point to, and judge the other person. Rather than taking the other person’s perspective and sitting on her chair, you can decide to look at yourself in a different manner, and to look at yourself through introspection and reflection before theorizing and judging the other person and his perspective.
5.    The metaphor perspective: Metaphors are widely used in psychotherapy and counseling and increasingly in business and other areas. A therapeutic metaphor is defined as a technique of storytelling which provides an individual with information that instigates new, productive thoughts and behavior. Why not join therapists and use this technique yourself? How often have you heard of the corporate business team being compared to a sports team, or the advice to tend to yourself like you would tend to a garden with regular sowing and watering? Use metaphors to explain, to inspire, to change.
6.    Visualization: Picturing your career in ten years from now or visualizing what success for your company will look like is part of visualization. Visualization is creating a mental picture of something. This technique makes the future become more clear. Also, seeing yourself already achieving your goal makes your brain believe that attaining that goal is possible which increases self-confidence and coping. Consistent focus through visualization brings the goal closer to you. Just as visualization techniques have been used by experts to coach and improve musicians and actors, visualizing your success (both the end result as the steps you see yourself taking to get there) can be very helpful in being more successful. It enhances your mind and your brain’s creative process.
7.    And the last one is experience – driven perspective, referring to the multiple perspectives you can take based on your many experiences in different areas of work and life. The more we live and experience (not the longer we live, because that might not be correlated) the bulkier our reservoir of experiences that we can draw from. Get out of that comfort zone and seek out and create opportunities to enrich, learn, and do new stuff with new perspectives.

     Let's please inspire ourselves and others not to remain stuck in one, limited, straight-jacket like perspective. It's not just near-sighted. It's dangerous.

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