Social innovators need to remain alert to the world around them if they want to seize any or all of the chances that may come their way. In today’s information era, life won’t stop for anything or anybody. Not in vain, innovators are renowned for their ability to astutely perceive their surroundings, and for constantly honing their keen eye for new opportunities. Harvard Business Review Poland, as part of Social Innovation Academy project, recently conducted a study which ranked observation as one of the most relevant skills for any trendsetter to have. But how do you remain one step ahead in the game? Here are some tips for improving your awareness of your surroundings.

First, let’s attempt a definition. According to the Oxford Dictionary online, observation is defined as ‘the action or process of observing something or someone in order to gain information’. Now that we’ve established this, let’s focus on how we can learn to observe the world.


Sit in a public place and write a journal

What better way to develop awareness of your surroundings than to expose yourself directly to them. Look around you and focus on the most minute details you can think of – what sounds can you make out among the noise of a crowded city? Can you guess the brand of a passer-by’s watch? How many different scents can you recognise as you simply sit in the park? Just make sure to write your thoughts down – your notebook has to become your most valued ally.


Tell yourself a tale

What to do with that information you’ve gathered? It’s great to have been able to pick it up, but how do you ensure it remains in place? Telling yourself a story about a specific stimulus you’ve picked up may just do the trick. Try guessing its origin, the story that lies beneath. What is that well-presented gentleman’s background? What brand is that perfume you caught a whiff of? Why is that person wearing it? Working to establishing such links, no matter how off the mark they might be, will help you develop an analytical mindset.


Go rudimentary

The term inattentional blindness was coined in 1992 by Arien Mack and Irvin Rock in relation to our inability to focus due to an overexposure to certain stimuli. Focusing implies getting rid of filters between your perception and reality; that is, removing these unwanted stimuli. This doubtless entails a degree of discipline and certainly makes mobile phones, computers, headphones and the like a no-go. Better still, you could ditch the car altogether, opting instead for a simple stroll. Walking brings with it a constantly evolving environment, one that lends itself to your full immersion within it – new faces, new inputs and new challenges.


Observe yourself

An exercise in introspection may seem counterintuitive, but it’s often what we cannot see that we need to be most aware of. Observation begets evaluation, and you can only excel at it if you’ve learned how to examine yourself and fully understand your underlying aims and motivations.


Create behavioural patterns

With enough observation under your belt, it then becomes necessary to develop a network that brings the findings together into a comprehensive database which helps you draw conclusions and make decisions. Social innovators will certainly want to be on the lookout for potential openings and business opportunities. Identifying potential shared needs remains a core skill in their line of work as it allows them to react according to the gravity of the situation at hand.


Read their bodies

Observational skills go beyond merely being receptive to the events taking place around us. They have to be subtler, more nuanced than that, to ensure we’re able to easily read those apparently non-existent cues. What an individual says through their body language may be just as revealing, if not more so, than what they express using their voice. Picking up on these individual signals provides social entrepreneurs with the vital potential to stay ahead of the curve.


Don’t hesitate to ask

Observation can be developed mainly by getting out of one’s comfort zone. Asking a friend, family member or acquaintance to go for a simple stroll around your neighbourhood may prove incredibly revealing about your surroundings. And the same thing happens in every aspect of life. If you’re trying to spot specific patterns of behaviour in individuals so as to anticipate their needs, you’re best to resort to experts on the matter.


Utilise several varieties of entertainment media

Whilst apparently being contrary to logic, focusing specifically on various types of media, such as songs, movies or novels, may generate differentiated types of observational connections, since each one will utilise a majorly different sense to transmit information to the brain. This way, you’ll soon improve not only your observational skills on a visual level, but also via auditory and olfactory means, effectively acquiring a more nuanced outlook on life. Not to mention that this kind of content is actually quite fun and a perfect way for you to unwind after a long, hard day honing your skills out in the open.

Once you’ve transformed these tips to learn to observe into valuable habits, it’s simply a matter of reaping the benefits of all your hard work!


Learn more at Social Innovation Academy

Interested in similar topics relating to social innovation? Limitless and four other partners have launched a project aiming to develop the first online Social Innovation Academy in Europe, with a focus on key issues in social innovation. Why Social Innovation Academy? It is necessary for entrepreneurs and for people who intend to use social innovation practices to gain a thorough understanding of what social innovation has to offer. If you are interested in following this project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our Friends, apply to join our Global Advisory Board or follow us on social media (LinkedInTwitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here.



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