I remember first starting work at Condé Nast Digital and Vogue Runway (then Style.com). Mine was the task of managing SMS / text messaging campaigns for fashion week. I had to consolidate the day’s happenings in a zippy phrase that fell under the number of character restrictions and met the format requirement. I poured over photos and editorial from the fashion shows–Rodarte, Gucci, Versace, Alexander Wang, Marni, and so many more. Detail shots were by far my favorite (example left, source). The zoom-in on shoes, accessories, detail, design.
I was being trained to see and talk about complexity–the zoom-in view.
The first year I lived in Europe, and two years before my Condé Nast induction, I had a modest Canon Powershot camera with me. I snapped shots wherever I went and framed up moments with more than just my eye–my whole soul got involved feeling out the moment. When I came home to visit family in the States, my uncle gifted me with a camera. He had seen my passion for both the big picture and detail and wanted to invest in me. The new Sony camera wasn’t a DSLR, but it was light years ahead in the quality of images it produced, and to boot–it had an incredible zoom (see right for one of the shots it took). To this day, when I take images of anything at all, the zoom feature is my favorite.
I naturally gravitate toward the zoom-in and detail view. Several months ago, I stood with Greg at a lookout in my neighborhood of West Seattle and took in the skyline. “If you were to zoom-in anywhere here, where would you zoom-in?” I asked him. When I answered my own question, I think I picked one of the ferry boats, zooming-in on the people like dolls in a dollhouse sitting on the plastic boat seats, tapping on their phones or spacing out over the nighttime waters.
What you naturally see first has its benefits, as well as its shadow side.
One of my colleagues at Xerox Global Learning Services was talking with me about the project we were working on. She shared that she was often overwhelmed by the details of the project plan and had trouble seeing the big picture. We talked about the old adage of “not being able to see the forest for the trees” (image source).
The benefit of zooming-in on life is getting to see nuance, complexity–the detail of significance and uniqueness. The downside is that you can often get caught up there and miss the interconnected intricacy of the big picture’s design.
I met Caleb (pictured left) at a friend’s birthday party this past week. He talked about a two-week road trip that he and his wife took cross-country when she was moving from her medical residency in the midwest to the Pacific Northwest. He said that the road trip changed him. He hasn’t seen the world the same since. I asked him to tell me more about what he meant. He said that he was still digesting and was having trouble putting words around it. As he stood there thinking and trying to describe to me what he meant, I could see it in his face that it was as big of an experience in his life as he said it was. “The world is different when there’s cliffs like that… those mountains….” His experience of the details of earth’s topography had deeply impacted him–including experiencing the variance and breadth of it over the time and distance he covered.
Caleb’s story tells me that there is life to be seen in taking in both the forest and the trees–the details and the distance. How can we see both? How can we take it all in?
Much like engaging optical illusions, we can train our eyes and all of our senses to pull in both the big-picture and the zoom-in views. How? I think one way is through learning from others’ perspectives. Remember the time you looked an optical illusion and asked the person beside you–“what do you see?” Learning from what others naturally see is a first step to seeing the world more fully. Another way might be to hit the road ourselves–see more, notice more, and use our senses as much to their capacity as we possibly can.