The human retina has three kinds of receptors used for colour vision. These receptors are called cone cells. Humans see red, green and blue (rgb). Birds, which are active during the day have four kinds of cone cells. This extra cell enables them to see ultraviolet light. It means birds not only see UV light, but they are much better than humans at detecting differences between two similar colours. This is an important evolutionary trait to distinguish differences in ripeness of berries or to accurately navigate foliage.
In the future, using tools like CRISPR, we will modify our eyesight to make it, ahem crisper. We will also be able to restore sight to the blind and give sight where there was previously none. However, that is not the point of this Thursday Thought. The point is that we create our realities depending on what we pay attention to. If we only pay attention to information that confirms what we already know, we will continue to divide and conquer – ourselves. In a VUCA world, changing faster than at any other point in history, we must seek out new information (as discussed with Nadya Zhexembayeva on Innovation show 252). This new information is akin to the extra cone cell of the bird, resulting in a new way to see the world. Seeing the world differently means we will not only see the challenges differently, but also the solutions. Seeing information differently is only part of the way forward, next we need to blend that vision across various perspectives.
Our previous Innovation Show guest Robert Sapolsky shared that visual spectrum is a continuum of wavelengths from violet to red, and it is arbitrary where boundaries lie for different colour names (for example, where we see a transition from “blue” to “green”). To illustrate this, different languages split up the visual spectrum at different points in coming up with the words for different colours.
If you show someone two roughly similar colours and the colour-name boundary in that person’s language happens to fall between the two colours, the person will overestimate the difference between the two. If the colours fall in the same category, the opposite happens. In other words, when you think categorically, you have trouble seeing how similar or different two things are. If you pay lots of attention to where boundaries are, you pay less attention to complete pictures.
Thus to solve challenging problems, we must collaborate more than ever before. We must reframe boundaries as intersections. We must focus on overlaps rather than differences. Intersections are where innovation lives (“Intersections” is the title of a new monthly series we launch in the New Year – first up Robert Sapolsky and Robin Dunbar).
Our guest on this week’s Innovation Show is former Pentagon advisor, John Rogers, author of The Renaissance Campaign. John tells us how to formulate “Mixed Tables”. Mixed tables are groups of diverse people: for example a retired army general, next to a Hollywood producer, seated with an industry executive, beside a sociologist and a creative designer. The goal is to assemble diverse perspectives around complex problems. (John explains how to do this on the show.)
If we learned anything in 2020, perhaps it is that we are stronger together. Collaboration can bring us vaccines in record time. This mindset cannot be just a flash in the pan, if that is the case the pan will not be around for much longer. In a world of complex challenges, we need to venture beyond our swim lanes and explore the entire pool.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”Max Planck