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M. C. Escher has always been one of my favourite artists. From the moment I first saw his work (I think it might have been Waterfall), I loved it, but my all-time favourite is Relativity. (See here for a higher-resolution image)

As with many things, it’s all about perspective. At first glance, Waterfall is showing what looks like a perfectly cromulent waterfall and water-wheel. On deeper inspection, however, the whole structure is a perpetual motion machine, where the water is somehow always flowing down. Relativity, on the other hand, looks odd immediately, then gets odder the longer you look at it. It’s not the physical architecture that’s the strangest part, though – that seems as if it could potentially exist – but rather the gravity.

Having read quite a bit of speculative fiction (or “science fiction” as I knew it), I am quite familiar with the idea of free-fall and the idea that no actual “up” is necessarily required in space. I’m also familiar with the idea of “artificial gravity”, though I much prefer the use of spinning a vessel to generate it to the use of some magical “gravity generator”. One of the earliest (and still one of the best) depictions of the this was in the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In Relativity, the various figures are placed in such a way that each figure is affected by only one of apparently three gravity-sources. When you look at a single figure, everything “shifts” in your brain so that the figure is moving in a normal way, but then you see the architecture, or look at another figure, and everything “shifts” again. If you then try to look at several figures, your brain tends to get a bit tangled trying to see multiple perspectives.

Pure genius, in my opinion!

The point is that people see everything from their own perspective, and that things can appear totally different, simply by shifting that perspective.

On the surface, Escher is examining the changes in physical perspective, but I think one of his deeper points was to illustrate the way in which each person’s perspective affects they way they look at others, not only physically, but in other ways.

But how is this useful?

I have found it vastly useful to consider the perspective of others, both to better understand how they see the world, but also to see how disagreements are often matters of perspective, rather than fundamental differences of opinion. I’ve commented on Emotional Intelligence before, and perspective is part of it, but it’s also useful in purely practical terms as well.

Let’s look at the scenario where an urgent issue has come up, and leadership needs to figure out an approach to deal with it. How can shifting perspectives help us? Quite often, especially in large organizations, the details of the issue are less important than the needs of the people involved. By understanding this, we can better understand the “big picture” and improve our chances of getting things right.

Assume that everyone has kicked things off well, and that after an initial meeting with Alice, Bob, Carol, and Dan, the teams all got together to give everyone a good baseline understanding of the project. So far, so good. Now, let’s say that Bud (from Bob’s team) and Cass (from Carol’s team) are working on one part of the project. They know that Dan’s team will need to weigh in, but that they’re currently overwhelmed with another project at the moment, and won’t have any time available for several weeks.

That simply will not do. Bud and Cass need to get started, and cannot wait.

Fortunately, Cass has worked with Dan and their team before, and has a pretty good understanding of how they approach work like this. As it happens, Cass knows that Dan looks at everything in terms of risk, and how that risk can be understood, documented, and managed. So, as they work, Cass tries to predict the sort of questions and comments Dan would likely contribute, and Bud and Cass try to answer them all in their proposal.

After a few weeks, Bud and Cass schedule some time to walk through their work with Dan. Now, Bud and Cass decided to build their presentation as a dialogue, and tried to answer any questions or concerns about each point in the following point. This can be extremely effective if done well, but depends on an ability to understand the perspective of the audience.

In this case, every time Bud and Cass made a point, Dan would ask a question or make a comment, only to find the answer was usually included as the next point in the presentation. Needless to say, the presentation was quite effective, and Dan was quite impressed. He worked with Bud and Cass to address some additional items, then told them Dot was now free to work with them on the project.

So, rather than losing weeks due to the lack of availability of a key resource, Bud and Cass not only made the best use of their time, but also used their familiarity with Dan’s perspective to ensure that they addressed as much as possible until Dan’s team was available.

But wait, you say, that only works if you know Dan and understand his perspective, at least somewhat.



The answer is to build good communication channels between teams, and work to help people understand the roles of people outside their team. While actually knowing the people involved is best, just knowing a bit about the perspective or role of a team can be extremely valuable. “Risk” people gotta “risk”, “devs” gotta “dev”, and so on.



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