Observation is looking about us, right? Literally, yes, but not in the context of what Got-A-Head®? is doing. We are encouraging directed observation as a means of experiencing the world around us in a limited amount of time, exploring and understanding it, to get the desired result as efficiently as possible.
Observation, for Got-A-Head®?, comprises three different types of ‘seeing’, what we call See:SAW.
Search – when you are looking for a particular thing.
Awareness – when you are aware of the world around you – what should and shouldn’t be there.
Waiting – when you know what you are looking for and where it is likely to be found, and are awaiting its arrival.
In particular, along all three of these avenues, we are trying to improve directed observation, which is observation with a goal. Whether the goal is a scientist looking for evidence from an experiment to support a theory, a twitcher trying to spot a rare bird, or a child looking for their school bag in an untidy room, good technique will help.
"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."
George Bernard Shaw
The other important idea is efficiency, particularly when it comes to searching. What gives us the best chance of successfully finding what we need, and remembering the information, without wasting precious time? Can we get by with a quick look around or do we hire an archaeologist (the required approach for finding something in our daughter's room!)? To pick the best option, efficient thinking is critical.
When you are searching for something you need to be clear about what (and how many) items you are looking for, then apply strategies such as skimming, scanning, quartering, spiralling and plotting to find them and communicate your findings to others.
The rule with observation skills is the same as that for thinking and memorisation. The more you do, the better you get. But even with a little practice, these skills will help. You just have to remember to use them.
OBSERVATION AND THE SENSES
It’s very important to note that although we talk about See-SAW, we don’t intend for you to only use sight in your observation. You should be using all of your senses. Can you hear what it is you are looking for? Is there a distinct smell or aroma – is the toast burnt, or are the cookies ready? Do the petals feel healthy or frost-damaged? Can you feel the texture you’re after? What can taste tell you about the object of your observation? It’s important to think about what you expect to sense, and the reality you encounter.
OBSERVATION AND THINKING
Having a goal followed by an action firmly links observation skills to thinking ones. There is synergy between them. On one hand, thinking before you observe (i.e. directed observation) makes you more likely to find what you’re looking for, and do so more quickly. On the other, good observation skills can feed into the thought process, suggesting new avenues for ideas, or novel approaches, or finding keywords more quickly to make your reading more effective.
Observation is a key part of the Forget-Me-Not MORE Inspiration, where we use the world around us a springboard to creativity. We’re not necessarily looking for the same object in our task, but what ideas the things around us can bring to it.
For instance – here’s a view from where I’m sitting as I type this. If I were doing a piece of history homework on the Romans, say…
Good Observation provides loads of avenues to explore, using things that at first glance have nothing to do with the task at hand, but can provide some interesting perspectives:
The piano. What sort of music did the Romans make? What were their instruments like? How important was music to them? Ivory and ebony – did the Romans have them? Did they trade them? How did trading work in Roman times (money, exchange of goods, trade routes etc.)?
The music score is printed on paper – did the Romans have paper (or a paper substitute)? Consider examples remaining of what they wrote (e.g. curses at Aquae Sulis, birthday invitation at Vindolanda, Pliny’s letters) and how that might be used in what we're doing.
The clock. It has Roman numerals – how/why did that system develop? How did Romans measure time? Did they have clocks or clockwork-type mechanisms (Compare with the Antikythera astrolabe that was discovered)? How would they sound an alarm? Did they have bells? How would their time (i.e. era) compare to what we have now? What is similar, what is different?
The candles. How did Romans manage lighting? What kind did they have (e.g. candles, lamps)? What did they use (beeswax, oil etc.)? Were they coloured at all? What would the Romans use for dye? How would they dye other things (e.g. materials)?
The candlesticks. One is made of lead crystal. What did the Romans use lead for? Where would they get it from? The other candlestick is glass. What was Roman glass like? What did they use it for? Was it made in Rome or elsewhere? Did they trade it (or for it)?
The hairband. What were Roman hairstyles like?
The marble egg. Did Romans use marble? Where was it from? What did it look like? How did they use it? Would they eat eggs? Did Romans have chickens? If not, did they have other domesticated birds?
Obviously, what you come up with will depend a lot on the task you are doing (and how much time you have to do it) – some things will be more relevant than others.
OBSERVATION AND MEMORY
Just as Observation can help Thinking, and vice versa, so are there strong links and benefits between Observation and Memory. Using Memory before you start will make your Observation far more effective. For instance, what are the qualities of what you are looking for (remember to use all your senses to answer that one!)? Where did you last see it? Who have you seen using it? What techniques do you remember that will help you best, given the nature of this observation task?
The more links and associations we can generate with things, the more likely we are to be able to remember them and, more importantly, recall them at will. What can we observe that will act as a trigger to a particular memory? This can be to use as a key to open a particular door in our memory palace, or to set up as a reminder for prospective memory (things we need to remember to do in future). You can read more about our Flame, Fuse, Fire technique here.
However, you also need to remember or communicate what you observe, which links observation with memory. Can you use what you observe to organise your memory better, to make retrieval swifter and more effective? Alternatively, can your memory speed up the search process, using what you have learned or experienced in the past to boost your current activity?