We are all shaped by our experiences, in our personal lives and in our careers or businesses, and these go a long way toward helping us grow, improve, and take calculated risks. Our experiences can help us discern the truth of a situation, or a person. Our past successes, and especially our failures, can help us see past the obvious, going beyond the information at our disposal to see how it connects, what it really means, and what is likely to happen if we take action A, or action B, or action C—or no action at all.
These experiences explain why entrepreneurs over 50 are twice as likely to be successful when starting a business compared with those under 50 (see “What Moves You?”). But for all of us, discernment often requires stepping out of our experiences, for they can narrow how we view the world. Often, our experiences keep us stuck in a rut because we don’t see new ways of looking at situations or people. Unlike other attributes of visionaries, such as having presence or being a truth teller, discernment is more of a skill that we have to learn and develop consciously.
You can start practicing this skill on your own by reviewing past decisions to see what you missed, and by consciously asking questions about what really matters to you, what’s worth your time, and what only matters because you think it should. Stepping back and looking at the big picture (the god’s eye view or view from the universe) can help you to see which part of you is experiencing a particular situation. What you are experiencing may not really be what’s there, or it may not be the whole truth.
Often, we need to seek an outside perspective to help us see past our own blind spots and to challenge our assumptions about what the truth really is. Skilled facilitators that can take you to a big picture view so that you can move away from your experience and access those parts of you that can make conscious decisions rather than kneejerk reactions. Family and friends can also give us perspective, if we are open to hearing the answers, although this can only go so far, for we tend to share a group blind spot with those close to us.
In business, outside sources are essential to discerning the truth. Without focus groups, surveys, social media analysis, and other ways of asking for feedback, we’d be far more likely to assume our customers want what we want, which is often a mistake. Take, for example, the Ameriprise ads that attempted to connect with Boomers by playing to nostalgia. The ads failed because, as David Wolfe pointed out, “They try to connect with where boomers were, not where they are.”
No matter how accomplished we are or how much experience we have under our belts, we all need guidance at some point in our lives—in fact, throughout our lives, especially during transitions. The only thing that is constant in this universe is discontinuous change. We can’t make a difference in our lives, our work, or our world if we cling to the same mindset, even if that mindset brought us success in the past.
In what aspect of your life or work do you most need a new perspective? Who can offer you the outside perspective you most need right now?