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You can't fix what you can't see

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

We're all works in progress and, to the extent that we are self-aware and introspective, we can fix personal glitches and interact on a more fulfilling basis with our environment.

One aspect of my own character that I still consider a work in progress is my artistic inclination. Like so many with latent talent, whatever it may be, if the environment isn’t ideal for nurturing that particular leaning, then, chances are, it won’t flourish. In my case, a less than ideal upbringing didn't allow for that particular facet of my character to develop. Since then, the fault has been all my own. Even so, regardless of education or opportunity, I still have the artists eye. Let me explain why I think this is a useful trait:

Years ago, as a Salesperson looking for ways to increase my capacity to educate customers in my product, I took a teaching course. The course required students to choose a subject to teach for the duration - this would be the subject area used for the various projects. I chose ‘Art for non-artists’.

It was, and still is, my contention that whilst talent plays a massive part in any artistic endeavour, the rudiments of drawing could be taught, like a language, to anyone. I drew my inspiration for this idea from the wonderfully gifted teacher, Betty Edwards, and her book ‘Drawing on the right side of the brain’.

I do Betty an enormous injustice by summarizing her ideas as follows: that when we try to draw something, we tend to use the left, linguistic side of the brain (anyone that feels the need to correct this massively simplified and outdated idea of left and right brains, please, fill your boots). This causes us to draw what we think we see, but in actual fact, is no more than a descriptive symbol presented to us by our linguistic brain.

So, in essence, when a person says ‘I can’t draw to save my life’, the problem is that they are not, in fact, seeing the thing in front of them. And you can’t draw what you can’t see.

Betty helped correct this self-imposed handicap by getting the pupil to draw, for example, an upside-down photograph, from which it was impossible to extract any meaningful information such as ‘that’s a nose, so I’ll draw what I think a nose looks like’. The only way to draw at all was to draw exactly what was in front of them.


A conversation I often had with both my children illustrates my point – in drawing for art projects, my children would become, like so many would-be artists, frustrated at their inability to ‘get it right’. The hands would be out of proportion, or the eyes would be lopsided. My comments would always be along the lines of "look at the photograph (or bowl of fruit, or whatever) and draw what is actually there in front of you... but don’t describe it in your head as your doing it, just do, don’t think. You’re getting in your own way".

Years later, both of my children have the rare ability to actually see what’s going on in front of them – not what they think they’re seeing, or worse, what they’re being told they’re seeing.

So, you can see where I’m going with this. We often deal with problems in exactly the same way. When asked to describe the problem they are facing, many clients have a similar issue – they describe what they think the problem is. But is that really the problem? And if it isn’t, why aren’t they seeing what’s actually going on? There are many reasons for this, and it is an affliction that reaches into all corners of society.

I won't go into detail about the many biases and shades of prejudice that can blind us to what should often be obvious. We are all prone to the type of assumption that often makes any sort of meaningful progress virtually impossible - how can you possibly fix something if you can't see it? We've all encountered situations where a spouse or relative appears to be incapable of seeing a point we're trying to make. What's the answer?

One approach is honesty. A determination to be as honest with ourselves as often as we can will encourage the habit of seeing things as they actually are, rather than how we would like them to be.

Getting others to do likewise is not so easy. We would like to think that a spouse or relative has enough invested in the relationship to risk the vulnerability of such honesty during interactions, no matter the stakes. But that's not always the case and we would be best advised to tread carefully in such situations.

Personally, it's one of the aspects of my job that I enjoy the most. The freedom that comes from having our eyes opened to our own misconceptions is a gift that is as enjoyable in the giving as the receiving. And simply asking 'Do you think that's really the issue here?' is often all it takes to start a process that leads to real breakthrough.

I'll be looking into this approach in future posts but, in the meantime, why not try asking yourself when confronted with an issue - What's actually going on here? What am I missing?

You'd be surprised at how much better we are at thinking when we 'turn the photograph upside down'.

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