Published on: November 24, 2009by Michael Sansolo
In the universe of MorningNewsBeat columns, it’s pretty obvious that we find lessons in nearly everything. Sports, history, television shows, songs and, of course, movies. The one area that always seems a struggle is politics. Unlike all the other areas, where metaphors and lessons seem to work, politics seems to elicit polarizing views that instantly set off portions of our audience, in the process killing any hope of discussion.
For instance, think about Sarah Palin. At the mere reading of her name, some of you have lost sight of this column through involuntary eye-rolling, while others are waiting to see if I dare take a cheap shot at her. Instead, I want to propose looking at the picture a different way and how that might help us view customers and (at times) politicians.
Smithsonian magazine ran an article last month that should be mandatory reading for business people, politicians and more. Titled “Training Cops to See,” it told the story of a training program offered to the New York City Police Department by an art historian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The historian leads the cops through the galleries with the challenge of looking at paintings for only their details. In short, they are viewing the art as if they are examining a crime scene. The cops are told never to use the words “obviously” or “clearly” because things aren’t always that way. In addition, they are forbidden from reading the labels on the pictures.
And it’s a real challenge. The cops, like most of us, look at the entire picture too quickly and at times make a judgment too soon. But as they move through the gallery, they start learning the skill and suddenly the works of art provide untold information and perspective.
As the art historian and the cops explain, the exercise pays almost immediate benefits back on the streets. The cops find they become better able to provide precise descriptions of suspects, which helps them and fellow officers in difficult situations. Even the searching of a crime scene improves because of their new perspective. And it is all because they stop making judgments before they look at details.
Now thinking of Sarah Palin (or any politician for that matter) you can do almost the same. Some of you love everything about her; some hate it all. Yet probably very few have actually looked at all the details. We look at the whole picture first and make all our judgments even though we know that in the details we will all probably find things we like and dislike no matter our overall feelings about the former governor. (Sadly, I’d argue, our entire political structure has fallen into this trap.)
That’s a long metaphorical trip to finding a new way to look at shoppers, at stores and products. So much of our viewpoint is based on experience, just like the cops on the street or in the museum. But at times that view can obscure the details in which we might find opportunities or mistakes. It might blind us to details that need attention and rethinking because we can’t even see them.
One last question: when I mentioned Sarah Palin how many of you thought: working woman, five kids, one grandkid - great sales potential on convenience items and bulk products? I’m betting not many did that.
Sometimes you need to see forests and sometimes you need to see trees. Either way, you need to be looking.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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