In January of this year (2020), I had the opportunity to travel to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for an amazing week-long emotional intelligence masterclass. Of course, I had no idea at the time that this would turn out to be the last opportunity for this sort of event “in person” for …well, for who knows how long?
At one point, we were given simple cardboard frame glasses. When we looked through them, they refracted light sources so that it was almost like a kaleidoscope – except that you could still see the world around you. I immediately held my phone up behind the glasses to see if a picture could grab the image I had just seen with my eyes.
Luckily, it did because that image strikes me as a perfect illustration of what I mean when I talk about contextual imagination and the need to “Notice what is.”
The potential for this refracted light image is all around us, nearly all the time. Yet, we rarely see it. Perhaps we don’t have the tools to see it. But I brought about a dozen of those little cardboard frame glasses back with me (you know…for the kids, obviously) and yet I have seldom taken them out to look around. I could see it, I just don’t take the time, or make the conscious choice to do so.
Not-seeing all that we could see in any given situation is an extremely common occurrence in our lives, and I’m not simply talking about pretty effects with light sources. To a certain degree, this is often due to us being busy or distracted. However, there is also a biological cause – one which is meant to preserve our sanity and keep us safe.
Our brains have developed systems and processes for receiving, interpreting, categorizing, and filtering the deluge of data we are taking in all the time. If we were consciously aware of all that data, or even that the filtering process was taking place, we would be overwhelmed (at best). Instead, we only consciously register a small percentage of what we encounter and are able to focus attention on those aspects that are most important.
This is a very helpful skill for survival. It is fantastic for efficient functioning.
And yet, it can be a serious detriment to awareness, creativity, and problem solving – and can limit our ability to draw on the potential wisdom and resources in our context. The upside is, these mental processes are there to support, protect, and enhance our ability to navigate this world – NOT to limit, restrict, or refuse access. We not only have the ability for manual override, over time we can train our brain to notice new things – to catch the data that may have previously been mislabeled and categorized as unimportant. (I have a lot more to say about this…maybe later.)
This is what I mean when I talk about “Notice What Is, Imagine What Could Be, Co-Create What is Becoming.” It is a process of contextual imagination. A process of shifting our attention and focus. I use this process in coaching, training, and consulting – and have seen it help others generate tremendous insight, transformation, and the creation of new things. I use it when helping my kids choose a topic for a school project – and have realized that this process is just as powerful and attainable for someone in elementary school as it is for someone leading a large organization; for someone just getting started in their career or someone seeking something meaningful during their retirement years.
This is why I started Creative Leadership Resources. I believe there is tremendous potential, wisdom, and resources present within our communities, organizations, businesses, and teams. I believe in cultivating leaders (regardless of title) who are equipped and dedicated to drawing out the best in everyone they encounter. I believe we can shape cultures in which in everyone is encouraged and supported to more fully notice what is, to imagine what could be, and together, to co-create what is becoming.