Avoiding a Desaturated Life

There really isn’t much color most of the places you go to. What color you do find usually isn’t well placed or interesting and you often have to search for it. Or it’s muted and not very vibrant. You might be able to see more color when you’re downtown but that’s because people are trying to sell you something so they try to shock your senses and get you to say wow, that stands out so I should buy it. But in the suburbs you just don’t find any people willing to do more than a red plastic bird feeder or a yellow “Pesticides have been applied to the lawn” stake.

I noticed on my walk today that most of the world around is made up primarily of neutral colors. The houses are whites, gray, and browns. The majority of cars on the road seem white, black or gray. When you do see a lot of colors all in one place they tend to look ugly because people haven’t thought about complimentary colors or how the colors are composed together.

Maybe that’s why so many people are into over saturating their photos on Instagram or doing HDR photography on Flickr. They want to pull out what little color they can find and show it to the world.

Now, I do have to admit, today was a cloudy, rainy day in my part of the world. And, it’s still winter so things probably seem more muted and dull to me. Thankfully, Spring is just around the corner and life is starting to spring up around us now that the weather is warming slightly. But right now, you really have to work at it to see it. Here’s a street corner I passed by the other day:

It would have been very easy to just pass by this scene and disregard it. But I stopped because I knew that in most places, if you come in just a little closer you can find some pretty amazing things. Sure enough, as I got down to ground level I was able to discover this:

This is just to show that even though the world around might look colorless, if you change perspective, and prioritize a mindful observation of your surroundings, you can find beauty almost anywhere.

Actions Speak Louder

It’s important to pay attention to what people say. But the real measure of a man is in what he does.

Take politicians for example. They love to talk and promise the world to get elected. Once elected, however, they very often disappoint their constituents by not following through with what they promised.

So how can you tell if you’ve elected a good leader or a total dud? You look at their actions. How did they vote on issues if they were previously elected? Did they vote at all or were they absent most of the time? If they were a private citizen prior to being elected, what did they do? How did they act?

The same action based principles hold true with businesses. Advertisements and mission statements might get me in the door. But it’s the way employees treat me or the way a manager handles a problem I may have with their product or service that determines if I become a loyal client or not.

In today’s information driven world there’s a lot of talk and little action. This makes it hard, but not impossible, to judge character. It definitely takes a bit of work. But by observing actions, regardless of intent, we can form a pretty good model of who people are.

I Never Knew That was There

I’m always trying to find somewhere interesting to go on my daily morning walks. Going on the same route every day gets boring after a while. Yesterday I walked to two nearby business plazas and walked along the store fronts looking at what businesses were there.

Now, I had been to these plazas before to go to a restaurant, a bookstore and a martial arts studio. I also drive by them almost every day. But I was surprised at how little I knew about the other businesses that were in there.

By my count I walked by 32 businesses. I had only been to three of them and before yesterday I couldn’t tell you the names of more than one or two of the other ones. I’ve written before about being observant and really noticing things in the world around you. The problem is, there’s so much to notice and a lot of it isn’t relevant to your immediate life. For example, I didn’t need to know there was a women’s hair salon or a travel agency and SCUBA dive shop.

Your brain is very good about blocking out unnecessary distractions and only allowing you to see what you need to see to get you through your present situation, whatever that might be. Mindful observation is a way to hack your brain’s normal functioning so you can be aware of more around you.

I was practicing mindful observation as I walked up and down the business plaza’s parking lot looking at store fronts and making all of the early arriving employees nervous.

OK, who cares? So I made a point of paying attention to a bunch of stores in a couple of strip malls. Is this supposed to mean something? Well, sure. It means that I’ve purposefully put diverse input into my mind. That input is combined with other knowledge and ideas I already have in my head and has the potential to become new creative ideas or solutions.

Of course, I don’t yet know how my mind will combine the ideas of a prosthetics shop, a yoga studio and a cat lounge but at least the comedic implications are obvious.

How Observation Influences Art

For my birthday yesterday I went to a lecture by mixed media artist Mary Robinson called Shifting Perspective. She talked about the role  our environment and experiences play in making art.

I sat next to this enormous print during the talk. It was either inspired by the swamps in the authors home state of South Carolina or a crime scene in CSI New Orleans.

The writeup in the paper for the lecture used the word observation to describe this. However, I found it interesting that Mary never used the word observation in her talk (unless I was hearing but not really listening). We so often go through our days seeing things without really observing them. It takes a concious shift in thinking to truly observe our surroundings and understand what we’re seeing.

This is the same concept Maria Konnikova writes about in her book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. I wrote a post about this book a few years ago and just started re-reading it earlier this week. It surprised me to spot the apt description of this lecture in the paper on the morning of the talk.

We see things every day but we rarely observe. Yet true mindfulness and observation of our surroundings and interactions are so important for everyone from photographers to programmers and everyone in between. It allows you to discover new ideas, methods of implementation and more efficient strategies to accomplish goals. At the very least you’ll get better at Trivial Pursuit.