A Sense of Perspective

After 30 minutes of scudding over the desert tundra we crested a rocky bluff and the ground fell away vertiginously into the Grand Canyon. The whole grandeur of one of the seven natural wonders of the world lay below us. The tiers of soft rock falling rapidly down the 1 mile drop into the Colorado River which snaked off into the distance, giving us just a glimpse of its 277 mile length. Wow.

A sense of perspective can be difficult to achieve, and this particular one was costing us $300 each, but it was unique and we could not have achieved it any other way.

After following the Colorado for a few minutes, the helicopter started to descend towards what looked like a tiny landing area. Finally it banked dramatically, and battling the crosswinds, finally settled on the rocky shelf. We scrambled out and looked around us dazed. Suddenly we were very small and the canyon was huge, towering above us and entirely surrounding us. We could no longer see the overall topography, but were stumbling over stones, with our feet slipping on the red rubble that was testament to the erosion that had created the canyon.

Now we were amongst beautiful desert plants with bright yellow and blue flowers. Cacti were dotted all around.  Below us was the Colorado: huge, mud red, and lazily boiling as it swept around the corner and disappeared from view.

We’d spent the week in the special weirdness that is Las Vegas at the National Association of Broadcasters annual tradeshow and jamboree, something I’ve been attending for over 20 years.  Over the years I’ve worked with many of the people in the industry. I’ve learnt the specialist language and know my H.264 from my 1080p and my VANC from my OpenEXR. That level of experience, that deep immersion in an industry, is hard won and gives you a particular perspective.

Like the view from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, it took a lot of effort and time to acquire this perspective and only a few people (ok, a few hundreds of thousands in the case of the case of the film & TV world) gain it.

But, it is a very particular perspective, and once attained it can then be difficult to imagine other perspectives, or even that they might exist.

Standing deep in the canyon the walls looked absolutely insurmountable, it was easy to believe that no one could ever make it down on foot. I’ve not seen the canyon from the perspective of standing against its walls, halfway down and if I didn’t know that there were paths, and that people regularly take donkey rides down them, I might never have even thought that perspective was attainable.

In business we tend to value the perspective of technical knowledge and experience, we tend to undervalue alternative perspectives. That is a shame because one is not better than the other, just different. If I was rafting down the Colorado, I’d sure want that close up experienced view of the river, but can recognise that another perspective could warn me of unexpected dangers ahead.

What we tend to lose in acquiring that specialist knowledge is the ability to challenge it and the status quo. We lose the simple ability to ask childish questions. We tend to accept answers, and the “way things are” as insurmountable as the walls of the canyon. Sadly, it is those challenging questions that lead to innovation and disruption. So those that are unable to ask them are as doomed as the dinosaurs.

Experience Naivety
Understand the terminology and detail Gloss over the details that they don’t understand
Anticipate barriers to adoption and the classic “we’ve tried that before” Runs straight at the barriers because they don’t see them (and maybe they don’t exist).
Understanding how things got to this level of weirdness “that’s just the way it is” “That’s dumb” – see that there must be a better way to do things
Knowing almost everyone and being able to contact them Seeks out the best talent they can and often from outside the industry
Know how we got here Know where we could be going

It’s not all good of course, you need both, and you need to be careful. Remember what happened to Trin Tragula’s wife? She told him he needed “to have a sense of perspective”, so he invented the Total Perspective Vortex to annoy her. When she experienced it, the shock of seeing herself in relation to the rest of the universe instantly annihilated her brain. Trin Tragula had discovered that the one thing that a person cannot afford to have in a universe this size is a sense of perspective.

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