The Art of Attention

Have you ever noticed the way an infant first observes their world?

Their tiny, new fingers grasp and release, their newly opened eyes study and study again, and it seems as though all their sensory modalities are in high alert. Yet if you look deeper still, you will sense something in infants that is very different from ourselves. An infant’s perception contains no judgment, no labeling, and no immediate assessment of whom might be better, quicker, faster, smarter. They are not distracted by what might happen in two weeks, what should have really happened yesterday, or how they would change today if they could.

Their observation of their world around them is quite simply . . . pure perception in the moment.

There’s something to be said for being able to see the world without labels, without judgment and without comparisons. To be able to devote oneself fully to a task at hand and bring one’s attention to the present moment. When athletes or Olympians are so focused on their performance in a sport, onlookers sometimes comment that they are “in the zone.” In those cases, it’s almost as if the act of being and doing become one, and all thoughts are cleared, until only the task ahead remains with sharpened focus and clarity of vision.

So what is the application for our lives?

Our challenge is to be fully present and give our whole attention to whatever task we may be undertaking in a given moment. For some, this may be instructional design, for others it may be interacting with others by delivering a presentation, and for others still, it may be a walk in nature. Whatever the task, we have a choice to bring to the table our full awareness, our whole attention, our pure perception. Here the newborn child becomes our teacher. It is in this place of perception and acceptance, where we find ourselves connected to the flow of life–creative, productive, at peace, and present. In a world where acceleration is status quo, multi-tasking is on the rise, and multiple distractions are ever present, being able to apply the art of attention may be more necessary than ever.

What say you?

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The “Blank Page Approach”

When you’re asked to deliver a presentation, do you immediately use software to first create your visuals? Do you select a pre-built template? Do you populate your template with ready-made SmartArt?

The affordances of today’s tools and templates certainly can make multimedia development much easier and more efficient. However, there could be something amiss here. What happens to quality when we’re so quick to prepare presentation visuals before identifying objectives and thoughtfully thinking through flow? What is the effect on the audience when we populate a PowerPoint template before thinking through careful design? And what happens to teaching and learning, when we quickly insert images into visuals without a pedagogical rationale for how they support the instructional content?

Today’s technologies are amazing, but we could be even more effective if we first spent time in thoughtful design and creative thinking. So how do we tap into this creative design?

We need to embrace the “blank page” as a welcome starting point.

Have you ever tried beginning a project with a blank page and not rushed to the computer just yet? I call this the “Blank Page Approach.” You begin your project with thinking and sketching. When you begin with nothing, it opens the way for endless possibilities to make themselves available to you and your canvas.

You can certainly use pencil and paper to think out initial thoughts or even a tablet and digital tablet pen. The point is you’re beginning with open-ended possibilities represented by the blank page in front of you. Once initial design and ideas are sketched, then you can use technologies to bring them to fruition and the results will illustrate your careful front-end design. By engaging computers and technologies too quickly in the design stage, we can limit ourselves and our creativity with visual and technical constraints and distractions.

Interestingly enough, Entertainment Mogul, Walt Disney, worked on animations for his films by first sketching things out with pen and pencil—starting with a blank page. Peter Walsh, a renowned professional organizer, encourages clients who are de-cluttering their closets to first completely empty their closets. He advises them to take everything out, so they can begin anew with empty space. This way, new possibilities for arranging and grouping items in their closet occur to them that they never saw before through the “clutter.” Tom Kuhlmann of Articulate Global, Inc. also recommends “starting with a blank canvas in PowerPoint” when first creating visuals. In turn, when Google first created their email system, they challenged each other to think about email as if it had never existed before and to imagine that if they could completely begin from square one, what should email look like and how should it function?

True, there are writers who waste away time by cursing at the “blinking cursor” on a blank page. Yet there are also those who push through writer’s block and create initial drafts only to completely discard them, so they can begin a given project anew with creative freedom. By beginning any project with a blank canvas, pencil and paper, or a blank tablet, you better position yourself to receive limitless ideas once you’ve cleared the way for creative thinking.

So when it comes time to start on that presentation, I challenge you to experiment beginning with a blank page and see what emerges. I see the still, quiet, blank page as the beginning to endless creativity.

What say you?