Manhattan is spread out beneath me: SimCity streets and skyscrapers, a microcosm of activity, from this perspective, perfectly organised and efficient. A view of the whole system. As the helicopter judders across to Staten Island i can see the whole city, each district laid out before me: juxtaposed and coherent from this altitude. I can see each of the airports, the whole Financial District, the three tallest buildings, competing for the light, the orange ferries and the broad expanse of parks punctuating the concrete.
Perspective is largely a matter of altitude, be that vertical or of thought.
Later, i’m scurrying around on the ground, under scaffolding, down side streets, zigging and zagging across the city, weaving my way to Chelsea. My perspective has crashed: no longer macro, but thoroughly micro and detailed. Tripping on the sidewalk, sidestepping trees, stopping at junctions. Perspective is lost, but the colour is brighter. At altitude, i see the whole, but i lack texture or detail: on the ground, i can see wood grain, rust and dirt, but lack the holistic view.
I wrote about this before, in Singapore: the difference between the whole and it’s parts. We can learn a lot by reflecting on perspective.
We are all constrained by our immediate reality: even when the walls are only in our head, they block the view.
To be able to flex your perspective is an important skill, and one that requires both awareness and action. Without it, it’s always ‘us’ and ‘them’, words i hear often throughout organisations and words that imply values, power and resistance all in one go. Words that reinforce the pedagogic model of us, the all knowing designers, sat on a pedestal whilst reluctant children learn.
The truth, of course, is different.
We are each of us bound by perspective: the only true way to overcome it is through engagement in dialogue and by moving location to get a different view.
Perspective is a feature of silos and inertia: in organisations that stand static, that rely overly heavily on structure and system, individuals are unable to move, unable to explore, unable to change their view. If the culture penalises curiosity or agility, it may achieve conformity, but at what cost? Without perspective, we have a very two dimensional view of the world: all grain and grit, but no perspective.
We need both and to have both requires both environmental factors and personal ones. We need a freedom to look outside, an ability to reflect and a space to talk. We need to rehearse our skills and be willing to argue both sides of the story.
We don’t need a helicopter to change perspective, but we do need the right mindset.