Learning “How To See”

by | Oct 7, 2022 | Articles

One day when I was in my twenties I was in the attic and unexpectedly discovered a box of large sketch pads containing detailed, textured pencil drawings my Mother had made.  Then I found beautiful watercolors and paintings she had made.  I was just blown away.

This was my discovery that my Mother was gifted with marvelous artistic talents.  She had packed away her creations in boxes that had not been opened in decades.  I was touched by the ones she drew of my father sitting by the ocean on the beach when they were first dating.

As I turned each page and discovered dozens of other scenes and images, my eyes grew wider in amazement of the talent Mom had, hidden away in the attic.

This was not someone “good at artwork”; I was seeing the productions of a skilled artist.  The best I could do was draw a snowman, and I wondered how or if I could ever learn to draw or paint like Mom did.  I marveled at her ability to illustrate with perspective and dimension.

I said “Mom, I can only draw stick figures, how would I ever learn to draw and paint like you can?”

Mom said “April, you don’t need to learn to draw – what you need to do is learn to see.”

What Mom gave me in that moment was a gift that applied far beyond artistic talents – it was the gift of perspective, of being able to step back and see dimensionally, layered textures and holistically.

In that moment, Mom’s words opened me to the notion that I had the capacity to perceive in ways that I didn’t realize existed, and therefore think differently.


►Think of individuals who have successfully influenced a change in perspective that led to organizational, technological, societal or other innovations and advancements.

It seems that first they had a vision – a way of seeing something new or differently.

Then they communicated that vision in a manner that enabled others see it too.

Writings on leadership sometimes refer to this as the Visionary leadership style.  This style is based on core EI competencies of Self-awareness, Self-confidence, Empathy, Change Catalyst, Visionary Leadership and includes skill in Effective Listening, Communication, Influence.  Leaders employing this style inspire and are able to explain how and why people’s efforts contribute to the “dream” or “vision”.  Through clear direction and empathy they are able to persuasively engage and move people towards shared dreams.

►As leaders, there are often opportunities – and sometimes an imperative – to help others “learn to see” what they aren’t currently seeing.  This is capacity-building.

For practical application, I’d like to suggest some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What is the most significant opportunity you have to assist others to “learn to see” with a new perspective?

Maybe it’s your team, or one person on your team.  Or leadership above you.  Maybe it’s an enterprise.
Maybe it’s a friend.  Maybe it’s a sibling, or your child.

  • When communicating, what picture can you paint that would facilitate others to think in a new way or with an expanded perspective?  This could be a literal illustration on a white board, or speaking or writing words that paint a picture.
    – Example: picture in your mind’s eye (or show an image or illustration) a hydroponic garden with lettuce growing vertically.  What can this innovation in agriculture teach us about opportunities before us?
    – Or, show a picture of a hummingbird, or another animal such as a bald eagle, an octopus, a panther, a dolphin or ostrich and ask: what can this magnificent creature teach us about our perspective on or approach to the opportunities before us?
  • What questions can you ask – or better – how can you frame the questions you ask to engage thinking at an expanded or elevated level?

– What questions can you ask that could change the conversation?
– What questions will you hear others asking that will tell you the perspective is widening or evolving?

– Example:  Imagine we can press a button and instantly be advanced in time to __ number of years from now.  From that future place in time, looking back to now, what capacities is it essential we build now?
What blind spots do we have now that will become glaringly obvious in the near future?  (and are currently likely obvious to outsiders)

  • What is one new way you can help others “learn to see”?
    Think about what happens when one experiences an AI interface or the Oculus Go.  Does a perspective of new possibilities suddenly open up?

– what other examples can you think of?

I would love to hear your examples!

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and
don’t assign them tasks and work,
but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery