Don’t Just Watch, Observe
“You can observe a lot just by watching.” Yogi Berra
Many of us smile when we read a quote from Yogi Berra, noting the humor in his wisdom. (He probably even said quite a few of the observations on life attributed to him). But if we stop and really think about his words they make perfect sense. They may even lead to new ideas and ways of thinking that guide you forward more successfully.
This is what happened to me when I came upon the quote at the beginning of this missive. After smiling at the obviousness of the message, I gave it some more thought, concluding that Yogi captured a simple truth in a powerful way.
In many ways he’s telling us to do something at odds with how the world seems to work today. Instead of rushing from thing to thing as it pops up in front of you, instead of multitasking so rapidly that everything you do is only completed at a surface level, instead of chasing the next hot thing and immediately moving to it, take some time to watch what’s going on around you.
By slowing down and actually watching for a while, you’ll observe a lot.
What happens when you take the time to watch and closely observe what you see? You begin to notice things that have escaped you before, and have also escaped everyone else. You begin to notice ways you could tweak what you observe to improve it or repurpose it.
Sometimes you realize that what you’re currently observing fits quite nicely with something you observed last week and a new product or even business is born.
I’m not talking about genius ideas that require sophisticated knowledge and expertise although if you have the knowledge and skill these ideas might also appear, but simple things that anyone can come up with if only they stopped and observed more closely and thought for a while about what they were observing and its implications.
Consider the origin of a simple product we all use. Spencer Silver was working in the labs of 3M trying to come up with super strong adhesives. He accidentally developed an adhesive with a fatal flaw…it wasn’t sticky enough even for normal use. Arthur Fry, another 3M employee, observed what happened when you used this flawed adhesive.
Fry was also struggling with a failure. He was unable to keep the bookmarks he carefully placed in the hymnal he used while singing in his church’s choir from falling out at inopportune times.
One day, while thinking about glue that didn’t stick permanently and bookmarks that didn’t stick temporarily, his observations connected and led to the ubiquitous Post-It Notes. Until Fry, no one at 3M had watched closely enough to observe that the adhesive actually worked quite well at holding pieces of paper together as long as there was no need for the connection to be strong or permanent. Or maybe they noticed but were rushing so fast they didn’t take the time to think about the implications as Fry did.
Watch more in order to observe fully. Let all your observations float around in your head. One day if you connect a couple of seemingly disparate things you’ve observed you might just develop something that will be even bigger than Post-It Notes.
As Yogi says in another nugget of wisdom, “When you see a fork in the road, take it.”