Book Review: Look: A Practical Guide for Improving Your Observational Skills

Reading is one of the ways I expand my understanding, increase my knowledge and, frankly, relax. So when an author I admire releases a new book, I usually get it right away. James H. GIlmore is one of those writers.  I had previously read his book The Experience Economy, and I liked his writing style and the content of his book, so I ordered Look: A Practical Guide for Improving Your Observational Skills, his latest book. It’s a great read and, I think, very useful.

Based on the title, I hoped this book would offer tools to help increase my observational skills, and I wasn’t disappointed.  As an improviser and a humorist, I know the more I heighten my observational skills the more adaptable and funnier I can become.  There is so much in front of all of us that we don’t observe because we are going a thousand miles an hour – days filled with meetings, deadlines, conference calls, problem-solving, kids, family, Facebook. The list keeps getting longer.

This book is inspired by Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” method but Gilmore uses the metaphor of “six looking glasses,” and each looking glass represents a particular skill.  The six looking glasses are: binoculars, bifocals, magnifying glass, microscope, rose-colored glasses, and blindfold.  Here is a summary of each, as laid out in the book:

  • Binoculars are used to look across and survey at a distance. Use when visiting someplace for the first time, when entering or exiting any place, when feeling crowded or overwhelmed with details.  
  • Bifocals are used to alternatingly look between two contrasting views or directions. Use when you are familiar with some place or thing, when everything seems the same (in the moment), when everything seems the same (as before) or when you are bored.
  • Magnifying glasses are used to look closely at one main spot. You can use when in a hurry, when overwhelmed with details, or when you know what you want to find but can’t
  • Microscopes are used to look around for more and greater details. Use when fascinated by something, when baffled by something, when faced with some difficulty or when there is time to kill.
  • Rose-colored glasses are used to look at something better than it actually is. Use when all goes awry, when nothing seems positive, when some place or thing is not to your taste, or when interrupted, disturbed, or offended.  
  • Blindfolds are used to look back and recall. Use when transitioning from one place to another, after completing some task, at the end of any visit, at the end of the day or the start of a day.

Throughout the book, there are different exercises to help you understand the proper way to wear these glasses and when to switch to a different pair.  By wearing these different glasses, I could slow down a bit and see more clearly.  You can wear one set of glasses or even all of them to analyze any situation.

If I were to put on a blindfold now and look back at what I read, I would see that there is clear congruence between improving your observational skills and my book, Improv Is No Joke: Using Improvisation to Create Positive Results in Leadership and in Life.  The six glasses method is in alignment with the improv principles of listening and focus.  Listening to understand and being present at the moment allow us to decide which pair of glasses we should use to bring to assess the situation and develop a strategy to handle it based on what we hear, say and see.