“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Put another way, it’s not what you know, but how you know that truly matters.

Do you know that 1 is greater than 2?  

 Shel Silverstein’s famous poem “Smart” illustrates the importance of how we understand things. The boy in the poem trades 1 dollar for 2 quarters, and then 2 quarters for 3 dimes, and then 3 dimes for 4 nickels and then 4 nickels for (you guessed it) 5 pennies.  We mustn’t forget to set the right CONTEXT for true understanding.

Have you seen this picture? *



Look at the two tables. If you had to select one of these two tables to fit into a long, narrow space, which would you select?

Did you say the left one? You are correct. However, if you said the right one, you are also correct because both tables have the exact same dimensions. Go ahead, measure the width and length of them both. I know you want to.

Our brain gathers visual information by constantly scanning our environment but the visual data we come across is not the end of the story. What we see is changed, interpreted or conceptualized in ways that depend on each individual’s mind-set, past experiences and training.  We tend to see what we expect to see or what we decide we have seen.

This process is not done consciously. Instead our brains often do deciding without our conscious awareness and then alter or rearrange or simply disregard the raw data of vision that hits the retina. As Betty Edwards in her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain puts it “Learning perception through drawing seems to change this process and to allow a different, more direct kind of seeing. The brain’s editing is somehow put on hold, thereby permitting one to see more fully.”

I experienced this first hand with the following exercise. I suggest trying it here.

Exercise: Keep the drawing upside down and draw what you see. You may start anywhere you want but focus on the lines not what it’s a picture of. Whatever you do, don’t turn your paper or the picture right side up until you’re done.

If you did the exercise, are you surprised? This is the power of setting the right conditions for discovery learning.  Betty Edwards sets up the right conditions for us to get out of our own way.

There are some really interesting studies done on how we all have perceptual blindness, where we fail to notice some stimulus that is plain sight.  Have you seen the Invisible Gorilla videos and studies done by Daniel Simmons?  http://www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/videos.html

Discovery learning is when the right conditions are set up so that people open up to new input. These conditions allow people to grapple with various concepts, creating new insights, and new mindsets. In essence, we help them see the invisible gorillas. When companies ask for change, they want this kind of cultural shift. Shifts in the mind ultimately lead to new behaviors, new actions and even new skills. It makes people feel fully alive.  As Leo Tolstoy put it: “True life is lived when tiny changes occur.”

*This was Roger Shepard’s “Turning the Tables” illusion. It appeared in the Jan. 2003 issue of Discover Magazine.  It’s a useful reminder that we don’t always know what we think we know.

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