During a conversation with one of my mentors, I became aware of the essential difference and the vital connection between sensing and sense-making.
Sensing is the ability to perceive something even if often we can’t describe it. It’s an innate capacity of our intuitive intelligence that allows us to sense the energy and vibrations of the universe, the one within and the one around us. It is at the base of empathy and compassion.
Sense-making is the ability to find or give meaning to something, to create a logical frame to explain what we experience. It is mostly a cognitive ability.
Our material society favours sense-making. We spend most of our time in school learning how to make sense of everything. Mainly because “making sense of things” is what is supposed to help you move forward in life and have success.
Though, a lot of studies proved that very successful people also have a high ability to sense. Emotional Intelligence is now widely considered essential for a successful life.
Sensing and sense-making are activities of different “muscles”, but only when they work together, we can express our full potential. A high ability to sense that is not matched by a developed capacity of sense-making can easily lead to a sense of overwhelming. Sense-making without the ability to sense is like an empty shell, dry and non-generative.
How can we develop our ability to make sense of the world without losing our capacity to sense it? And how can we awaken our dormant innate ability to sense?
I have the feeling that “art” is an excellent answer to both questions.
“While a toddler’s world might be geographically tiny, it is mentally limitless; conversely, when we grow up, we have the potential freedom to explore everything around us, but will often limit ourselves to the same narrow range of places, people and experiences.” — Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler by Paul Lindley
“Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms.” — from Do the Work by Steven Pressfield
Chaos is scary because it is unpredictable.
You can create the conditions for chaos to happen, but you can’t design it. Our brain is a predicting machine. It continuously evaluates the situation to find clues that will trigger behaviour in response. In every moment, our brain tries to fit the complexity of the world within the map of reality it has built over time.
But amidst chaos everything gets blurred and mixed up, clues are hard to find, and our mental framework becomes almost useless.
For all these reasons, chaos can’t be modelled or replicated. So, it is hard to deliberately create chaos to solve a problem. Though, chaos is generative. Because we can’t rely on what we know, we are forced to connect with the energy, to use our intuition and to trust.
Chaos challenges our beliefs, and in doing so, it helps us evolve beyond the boundaries of our mental framework.
“Unless some degree of chaos is permitted to enter the system, no further progress can be made. Sometimes, to create new structures, the old ones must be destroyed so the blocks can be recombined in different ways.” — From Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray
When I was a kid, my favourite treat for Easter was a typical cake in my region called “Focaccia Veneto”, or “Fugazza” in my dialect. But not every Fugazza. Only the one made by my grandmother. The funny thing is that she didn’t have a proper recipe to share, or at least this is what she told us. So, no matter how much my mum tried to create the same result studying my grandmother, her cake has always been different. Truth is, I’ve never tasted anything like my grandmother’s Fugazza, but over the year my mum developed her own unique, gorgeous recipe that I love as much.
Behaviour is a function of the Person in their Environment, or B = f (P,E).
Psychologist Kurt Lewin defined the equation above in his book Principles of Topological Psychology, published in 1936.
My understanding of this simple formula is that the same person behaves differently when the environment changes. At the same time, two persons will always show different behaviours even if they share the same situation.
The combination “person plus environment” is always unique, even when behaviours are similar or the same. The problem is that while environments can be observed and behaviours can be measured, a person uniqueness is more elusive. So, what we do most of the time is to study the practices of someone successful in a specific environment and model our own actions on theirs. All of this hoping to get the same results.
Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Indeed, we can learn a lot from a successful person, we can even clone almost perfectly her behaviours.
But we will never be her or him.
We must find our own unique recipe.
One that is rooted in and sourced from our identity.
In the end, we must always remember to start from the ancient wise words inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
“Before you step into someone else’s shoes, remember to take off your own.” — Devan Capur*
We all have a frame through which we perceive and interpret reality. This frame, or filter, is based on the beliefs, assumptions we develop through our life since we were kids. This frame is vital, it helps us get through life filtering out the flood of data flowing through our senses.
Problems arise when we mistake our frame for the truth, and we lock ourselves inside a bubble becoming blind to the infinite possibilities outside it.
When we enter a conversation with this mindset, we create conflicts and tensions. Because we assume to know the truth, we can’t understand why others can’t see it. It’s so obvious.
We use expressions such as “you should …”, “you think …”.
We can really understand the perspective of someone else until we step out of our bubble.
If you really want to have a meaningful creative conversation, enter empty.
* I found the quote on the book Nonflict by Amir Kfir and Stephen Hecht
Where do you look for inspiration?
In books, places, nature, peoples, objects or what else?
I met people who are capable of finding inspiration everywhere and in everything.
I remember once I was walking on a trail with a friend when he suddenly halted to take a picture. I couldn’t see anything different from what we had seen for the previous hour.
But he could.
And later on, when he sent me the picture, I saw it too.
We were in the same place, at the same time but his eyes saw something to which my eyes were blind.
According to the studies of the neuroscientist Manfred Zimmermann, our capacity for perceiving information is about 11 million bits per second. Zimmermann estimates that our conscious attention has a capacity of merely 40 bits per second. That means that every second, 99.9996% of the information that we sense, goes unnoticed.
We are all somehow blind to the infinite vastness of reality.
So, inspiration is everywhere.
What change is where do you choose to put your attention.
It is not about finding inspiration, it is about being inspired.
Our brain is a fantastic predicting machine.
It is continuously assessing the environment against what it already knows to find patterns to apply. Anytime an action creates pleasure, it contributes to the creation of a pattern. When anything generates pain, the brain puts an alert label on it so to be ready to recognise the threat in the future. It is part of our natural survival instinct.
This process makes us very efficient. Being aware of it we can use it to our advantage to create patterns that help grow and become the person we want to be. There are plenty of good books and programs on how to develop positive habits.
Once I watched a video of a personal trainer, explaining that our body works in the same way. Every muscle is designed to obtain the maximum result with the minimum effort. When we do the same exercise over and over, our body learns how to perform it using the minimum energy possible. As a result, we experience a peak in muscle development. This is why is a good thing to change often the exercises you do. To confuse your body, so it has to break the pattern, learn something new and grow.
It works the same way for our brain. Sometimes we need to create chaos and unpredictability to force our mind to be creative, to find new connections and patterns. In short, to grow. When we don’t have references, when we cannot use what we know to find a way forward, we are forced to create new connections, explore new possibilities.
It is scary, I know.
But once our creativity is released, the reward is incredible.
My mind is blank this morning.
I don’t know why, but I couldn’t come up with anything to write about.
So, I decided to write about colours.
I am at a friend’s house, in the countryside.
Outside my window, I can see, amidst the green, some beautiful yellow flowers.
They remind me something inspiring I head last Saturday from an Eskimo shaman.
He said that all human beings should always see themselves as a big circle.
A circle has no beginning and no end. And when we are in a circle, we can all see each other, and no ones are showing their back.
To explain the idea of the circle, he said that the sun rises at the East and it colours the sky in yellow.
Then it goes up in the sky and showered everything with white light.
When the sunset arrives, everything is coloured in red. And finally the sun rests for the night, and everything is black.
Yellow, white, red and black.
Like, he said, the different people who live on this planet.
Less than an hour later in the same conference, a scientist told about the stories of the first astronauts who saw the Earth from the space. They were all impressed by the blue and green.
This morning, while looking at these yellow flowers, I can’t think of anything more beautiful than the colours of life.
Non-attachment is a powerful practice.
But it’s not easy at all.
We live immersed in a culture that celebrates achievements and material wealth.
It’s hard to do something without being attached to the outcome.
Yet, anytime I’ve been able to experience non-attachment, my performances surged.
This practice of writing every morning is a good example.
When I started I had no goal but writing.
Being completely detached from the outcome, it was easy for me to sit down and write.
Then, once the practice became a habit and my writing began to improve, I started paying attention to the results.
I wanted to write something good because I knew I could.
I developed an attachment to the outcome, and I experienced the first difficulties. Days when words weren’t flowing, ideas were not coming, and my posts became less authentic.
Then I realized that nobody was expecting anything from me.
Nobody was reading me.
That gave me freedom.
And with that freedom words started flowing again.
Until lately, when I realized that I was focusing, again, on the outcome.
I have some readers, and I wanted to write something meaningful for them. For you.
The attachment to the outcome was getting in the way of my creativity.
Last days writing hasn’t been as fluid as usual.
And this morning I was stuck.
I was ready to give up and call it a day.
And when that thought came, when I gave up my attachment to the outcome this post emerged.
A few weeks ago I had an inspiring conversation about playfulness with my dear friend Luca. While we were reflecting on what “being playful” means to us, we realised that in playing, like in every human experience, there are both form and essence.
Because the form is the only visible one and the easier to model, we usually focus on it. It is what most of the companies did years ago when “gamification” became one of the main buzzwords in the digital industry. I did it too.
My feeling is that the “gamification” approach didn’t deliver the expected impact because it was all about form. We were trying to apply the typical visible elements of games to other areas. But the essence wasn’t there. We were just asking people with a business mindset to use a playful form.
What could happen if we do the reverse? If we infuse a playful mindset into other forms?
For Luca and I, a playful mindset or attitude is about being always curious, making everything experiential, seeing everything as an opportunity to learn and discover, focusing on the act of playing more than on the outcome, having fun together.
What about you? What is the essence of playing for you?
And what would happen if you infuse that essence in your work?
Sometimes all we need is just a nudge.
A little push to break the inertia and start moving.
I discovered it soon after I decided to write every morning.
The first days I was so excited that it was easy to find something to write about. And to be completely honest, I just wanted to write, so I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was writing about.
Soon, I found myself consuming most of my writing time to search for something to write about.
In the beginning, I thought that I needed a topic. A destination or at least a direction for my words. But this search wasn’t easy and, even when I found a direction, I wasn’t satisfied with the final result. Having the end in mind was narrowing my creativity, and the outcome wasn’t very inspired.
Then I discovered The Write Practice and its prompts. A prompt is a great way to inspire the writing process. It gives you a starting point, not the destination. It’s a little push, so you start moving, but being free to go anywhere.
Anything can be a prompt; a word, a question, a picture, a sound.
You just need to be willing to surrender to it, open the gate and go with the flow. Prompts are great for writing, in conversations, in self-reflection.
It’s a way to start without the end in mind.
I usually use the Be The Change cards.
Another good starting point is this set of 50 questions by my friend Marc Winn and his 50coffees project.
You can also use a “Word of the day” service.
Whatever, it’s not important what you choose as long as you are open and start even if you don’t know where you will get at the end.
Remember, not all who wander are lost.