Unleash the Power of Observation


Life is full of surprises. Unexpected things happen. People do funny stuff. But you’ll never notice the good stuff until you train your eye to look for it.

Every week I see something that completely blows my mind. Sometimes its hilarity. Sometimes its tragedy. Sometimes its awkward. Sometimes its a persons moment of accomplishment. And when I share these things I always get the same response… how do you notice all that stuff?

Observation is a skill. I don’t have special eyesight and I don’t think I live somewhere that especially strange things happen. OK, living near a university gives me the advantage that strange things probably happen more often than in other places. But I will make this promise, if you develop your observation skills you will see the art of life unfold before your eyes.

Step one: Pop a squat. Define normal.

The first thing you need to do is get to know your environment. If you’re new to this, go to a favorite coffee shop with a legal pad of paper or your laptop. Then, start writing everything you see down. Don’t talk to anyone. Just observe who is there, what they are doing, what they are talking about, what they are wearing, what they order, what they do after they order… write it all down. When it’s slow, map out the floor plan of the the coffee shop. Start noticing where people’s eyes go when they first walk into the shop. Start tracking foot traffic. Start noticing who stays how long. Start noticing how other people chose a seat. Once you’ve done this for a couple hours you will know what is normal about that shop.

Step two: Contrast everything. Ignore the normal to notice the abnormal

Once you get comfortable with the normal behavior of people in the coffee shop, you’ll start to notice the abnormal. (aka The Good Stuff) Notice that a guy sits in a certain place to check out female customers. Notice that people drop their change when the cute person is taking orders. Notice that the same person is meeting multiple people in a day. Notice the woman who cries quietly by herself. Notice the guy in the suit rolling his eyes while on the phone. On and on.

Once you are used to a single environment and you get good about noticing what is abnormal at one place… it should start to come naturally with things in your every day routine.

Most of the interesting things I observe happen when I’m in my routine. Riding my bike to the trolley I know what sprinklers are on, which direction cars typically come from at the intersections, which people are normally waiting for the bus, who are the regulars outside of Starbucks, that Tuesday’s are light traffic days at SDSU, who gets off at my stop, and which cars are parked on the side of the road as I work my way from the trolley to the office. Once I know that stuff– I only notice things that aren’t normal.

The more you do this the better you get. I think I observe things a little better than most people because I do it in my routine all the time. Airports are easy “next steps” as typically most people behave about the same in all airports. But just know this.

You can observe great things about the world simply by training your eyes to look out for it.

The irony of this post? I notice obscure things but often miss the obvious.





One response to “Unleash the Power of Observation”

  1. Erik w/a "k" Avatar

    Great post Adam. I love noticing the abnormal in life. I also love seeing the things most people miss. Ever watch The Mentalist? Simon Baker’s character has a knack for amazing observation and has a “take a look at the clouds, smell the roses” take on life too.

    Love that.

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