Recently, a friend of mine shared this short vignette on her Facebook page about her experience driving her son to daycare that morning:
Life Lesson by Jack:
Me: (annoyed in rush-hour traffic) “There are so many cars....” (sigh)
Jack: “It's like a parade - a parade for Cars! It’s Awesome!!! There are so many kinds of cars to look at!”
Lesson: Wow, it really is all a matter of perspective. I will never look at traffic the same way again. I love that kid.
All around us, we are surrounded by traffic and busyness and long to do lists and people rushing here and there. I know how easy it is to get caught up. To see the traffic jam and miss the parade.
About two years ago I was in a bit of rut without even realizing it. It took a class assignment from an excellent online course at Stanford, A Crash Course on Creativity, to pry me out of it. We were asked to purposely spend 30 minutes somewhere that we often spent a lot of time. For 20 minutes we were to walk around the location and then sit and observe the goings on for an additional ten minutes.
Afterwards, we were to create a mind map of our experience during those 30 minutes, answering a few key questions. What did we see, smell, hear, taste, touch? What actions did we take? Who did we talk to or otherwise interact with? What were our emotions? What ideas did we have as a result of the exercise?
Given that my natural habitat is the San Francisco airport, (I’m a speaker and trainer so I travel a lot), I decided to make that my destination. On Wednesday of the following week I arrived at the airport around 7AM. I spent 20 minutes checking in, getting a book at the bookstore, buying snacks, and wandering around aimlessly. Then I went to the restaurant and spent 10 minutes ordering and waiting for breakfast. Finally I created a mind map of the experience.
I was stunned by what I discovered.
On a typical day when I was heading to the airport, I would call my usual cab driver Mike (he’s wonderful), he would drop me off at the same door and I would check in at the same counter. I would interact not at all with anyone at check-in except to leave my bag. Then, I would take the same escalator to the same restaurant and order the same food. While I waited, I would read the same newspaper on my iPad. When it was time to depart, I would make my way to my gate, take early boarding as a frequent flyer and immediately put my noise-canceling headphones on, take out my book and read. I would speak to no one -- except perhaps the stewardess for about 1 minute -- until I arrived at my destination.
On this day, all of that changed.
Because I knew I was going to have to create a mind map of the entire 30 minutes, I began to pay attention to what was happening around me. Yes, I used my same cab driver and was dropped off at the same door, but at that point everything diverged.
I actually started to interact with people. I slowed down and talked to the people in line and at the check-in counter. I chatted up the security guards at TSA. I looked around at people and noticed some very funny packages that people were carrying (a custom-designed hat box and a bright pink violin case).
I browsed the bookstore, read the book reviews and chatted with the woman at the checkout desk. I stopped to look at the art on the walls and to see what new movies were available at the DVD rental store. I ordered something different at the restaurant, and chatted with the man at the next table while I waited for my order to arrive.
And most of all, I smiled.
For the very first time, I was observing the parade instead of the traffic. I was actually enjoying myself, connecting with people, and really seeing the rushing activities around me as ‘Amazing’ rather than annoying. Seeing the world through Jack’s eyes was a completely new experience.
After that, airports have never been the same again. In fact, I started a new hobby that day – documenting airport art at every airport I visit. I upload the photos to my Facebook page and tell people where I’m headed and why. Not only do people enjoy and comment on the photos, they’ve started adding airport art of their own when they travel. We are all experiencing airports (and our lives) newly.
So, as 2015 turns to 2016, ask yourself these questions.
I invite you to try the mind mapping exercise for yourself and then add a comment below on what you discover. (If you’re a Mac or iPad user, try this cool mind mapping software and upload your map to share with others.)