Phenomenology, Seeing and Stories – a hidden secret in plain sight

Phenomenology, Seeing and Stories

By Keith Coats 

Albert Szent-Gyorgy, an American biochemist, observed: “Discovery consists in seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought”.

Whilst some may find this rather natural – call them the ‘gifted few’, the good news is that the ability to ‘think differently’ can be nurtured and developed.

There is a philosophical tradition known as ‘phenomenology’ that traces back to the early Twentieth Century in the writings of Husserl and was elaborated on by Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. (All this just to show that I am not making this stuff up!)

Phenomenology is the description of what ‘we see everyday’ – those things that show up in our everyday existence but which we pass over due to the lack of a reflective process. It is the stuff that is ‘right under our noses’ but that goes undetected. Phenomenology is the attempt to make explicit what is implicit; it is the effort to pay attention; to notice what we tend to miss. In short, it is ‘relearning’ to see the world.

It is also the key building block in training ourselves to ‘think differently’. By paying attention to what is commonly missed we give ourselves the opportunity to notice and as a result of noticing, to see and think differently.

You might need to pause here and think about this for a moment. Better still why not try this little experiment to experience what I am saying:

Take a walk out your office of no more than 100m in any direction. Take a familiar route, a route you might travel every day. Your task: to collect a story. Any story. Collecting a story will necessitate you seeing the familiar differently. It will mean noticing what you tend not to notice. Collect a story. It is a great exercise to do with your entire team and then when back in the office, share your stories. You will be amazed at what is seen, collected and shared.

It is the start of seeing differently which then helps you to think differently.

Give it a try!

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  • Curiosity didn’t kill the cat: Why curiosity is so important
  • Anyone can be curious: How to develop curiosity
  • Why stories matter