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What’s The Name Of This Block?

February 16, 2010

I was watching some of the speeches given at TED this year. Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, gave a very short and interesting speech where he illustrates how different perceptions are just that, different (Click Here to watch the speech).  How we see the world is influenced by our own perception.  It serves us well to open our minds to the perceptions of others.

In case you don’t know, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  The purpose of the organization is to provide a platform for ideas, or as they put it “Ideas worth spreading.”  I always enjoy watching the speeches.  At the very least, you hear unique perspectives on a wide-range of topics.  A visit to their website (http://www.ted.com/) is well worth the time.

Mr. Sivers’ speech was based around something as simple as how we move around neighborhoods and cities.  His speech covered how in Japan, addresses are related to blocks and not streets, watch the clip to understand further.  While it is easy to understand that cultures without a common root develop different systems for doing things, it is not as easy to grasp when we look at our own culture and the differences within; they are there nonetheless.

We, as humans, have a preoccupation with grouping the world.  We even group ourselves.  We look at obvious traits like skin color and sex as well as less obvious traits like political beliefs and education.  Even within a group, we make subgroups, so much so that the word subgroup lost its hyphenation and became its own word.  We are obsessed with groups.

While grouping our lives and ourselves has its good points, it also closes our minds to new ways of seeing things.  In other words, it limits our ability to understand points of view from outside the group.  I think that is the point Derek makes in his speech. It is a plea to keep an open mind and try to understand the world from differing points of view.  Nothing in understanding a different way of seeing the world demands you compromise morals.  In truth, the opposite is true, the more your own beliefs stand up to differing views, the stronger the foundation of the belief.  Look at it like this, if you believe the right answer is four, two plus two will get you there.  Of course, five minus one works just as well, only in a different way.  Knowing that both are correct only adds to the validity of four being a number in the first place.

In the end, we tend to look at how we address problems as the only way to address them.  We fail to understand others can solve a particular problem in ways we do not even see possible and achieve the same result.  It reminds me of a story told during a seminar on waste control I attended while in the Navy.  The story goes NASA needed a pen that would write in the zero gravity of space.  They spent all sorts of money developing the pen and it performed very well.  Alternatively, the old Soviet Union addressed the problem in an entirely different way – they gave their cosmonauts a pencil.  I really don’t know if the story is true or not but it does illustrate the point, regardless.

When we go through life, we are better served understanding the views of others than assuming we always know best.  No one of us is as smart as all of us, keeping an open mind allows for the inclusion of ideas and outcomes that are more efficient in the end.

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