"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
Sherlock Holmes inspired me when I was a kid. I loved the idea of being able to look around and in one glance dissect the world commandingly; I thrilled at the intellectual acrobatics and the keen discipline the master displayed.
According to Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, observation is one of the thirteen thinking tools of the world's most creative people. Their book, "Sparks of Genius" is being used in a class I am taking. So, you'll forgive me if I incorporate some of my learning into the blog.
The thing that the Root-Bernsteins emphasize is that while observation is key to being able to apply creativity in real-world applications, it is something that can be learned. Observation isn't just a gift that some have and some don't. Art critic Herbert Read once stated that "observing is almost entirely a an acquired skill."
So what's the key? I'm not going to write an essay here about how to improve observational skills, I just wanted to note the importance of observation in creativity. Especially as a writer. However, one can just as easily make an argument for the importance of observation in any discipline. In any profession. By watching, focusing, using patience, one will spot patterns perhaps previously unnoticed and perhaps through those patterns make connections that they might have missed otherwise.
And of course, we must be cautious to limiting observation to the visual. Observation should include the aural, the olfatory, the tactile. Consider the keen aural skills of the musician, of an engineer listening to a car engine, of an attentive parent listening to a child at play or at rest.
The Root-Bersteins quoted W.E.B. Beveridge and I would like to share the story here:
"A Manchester physician, while teaching a ward class of students took a sample of diabetic urine and dipped a finger in it to taste it. He asked his students to repeat this action. Reluctantly they did, agreeing with their mentor that the urine was indeed sweet. 'I did this to teach you the importance of observing detail,' he said. 'Had you watched me carefully you would have noticed I dipped only my first finer into the urine...but licked the second."