People Watching for Fun and Profits
Consciousness needs something to contemplate. When the mind wanders, it must land somewhere. The mind cannot be aimless for long.
In our era of smartphones, tablets, and laptops, our default distraction is inevitably the internet. Boredom can so easily target a screen. We scroll through feeds, check inboxes, and give a thumbs up to posts, tweets, and videos.
But what do we miss when our awareness is limited to the four corners of our phones? Is social media distracting us from other opportunities?
Is the glow of the screen blinding us to other possibilities?
I pondered these questions while I was at an event in Toronto. The event was highly exclusive. Thousands of people applied to attend and only 100 were accepted. The speakers were headliners, and quality and caliber of the attendees was quite impressive. It was power networking on steroids.
During the sessions, speakers would speak; audience members would listen.
Just like any event, attendees would lose their focus and become distracted. As is typical with high-powered individuals (or anyone for that matter), their distractions were greeted by various touch-screens.
Look, I understand. There are down times. Your mind drifts down to your phone and thus up into the Cloud.
But the people at this event paid a sizeable amount to attend this event (not to mention flight and hotel costs) to, not only see the speakers, but also make connections with the people in the audience. And yet, the majority of the group was missing out on a golden opportunity.
I did not join them.
I found a more useful way to delve into distraction.
For one reason or another, I decided to turn off my phone for the duration of the conference. (32 text messages awaited me when I turned it back on when I landed in the States.) During the conference, I restricted myself from taking an attention break with my phone.
Shockingly, I found I didn't miss it.
Instead, I enjoyed a much more interesting activity. Something that kept me interested. Something that presented new opportunities. Something that I will forever implement much more often.
While the audience had their heads ducked down, either writing notes or (more often than not) thumbing away on their social media streams, I had my head up and alert.
I wanted a better understanding of who was in the room.
Who was most captivated by the speaker? Why? What could I learn about them based on their reactions to the speech? Would this person and I have something in common? What else could I learn from observing people in the room.
Because I made the decision to expand my attention, I could pick out people from the crowd that I knew I wanted to meet. Their reactions, mannerisms, and subtle details made them intriguing.
And so, when there were breaks, I didn't leave things to chance. I didn't let proximity dictate who I would be spending my next conversation with. Instead, I was intentional. I sought out the people that I found interesting. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to test my theories and make connections.
Let's say they reacted to something a speaker said. It was a perfect conversation starter.
"You know, I loved it when the speaker said...."
"Yeah! Me too!"
And we would have rapport and a rolling conversation. The connection was much easier to make because of my observations. Business connections means business deals.
People watching can not only be fun, but also profitable!
I wouldn't have had that opening to rapport if I hadn't been alert and intentional.
Think of it this way.
When you are watching a football game from the nosebleed section, you can see the entire field, the players, and the spectators. Your perspective has expanded to see all the working elements.
While you are watching the game, you cringe as the quarterback determines where to throw the ball. You scream at the top of your lungs, "Throw it to him! He's open! He's open!" But, sadly the quarterback throws the ball to his teammate who is quickly tackled by the other team's defense. (Look, that's the most specific I can get about football. Quite frankly, I'm proud that I was able to describe that much.)
The quarterback didn't have the same broad perspective as you. His focus was limited to the close action on the field. You were high up in the stadium and could see everyone's position. The quarterback could only see what was right in front of him.
Now, back to the conference setting.
When your mind wonders, will you make the choice to be like the quarterback? Or will you be the spectator from the cheap seats? Will you limit your perspective to what's right in front of you? Or will you take a look around?
Turn your social media addiction into an observation addition. Watching and observing turns into a game. And, believe me, it's much more fun than Angry Birds.
The next time you feel the pull from your iPhone, I have a challenge for you.
Fix your focus on the people around you. If you are in an airport, coffeeshop, conference, or restaurant, heighten your awareness to the people around you. Pick a few out from the crowd.
What do you notice about them?
What clues can you pick up from their clothing? Their accessories?
What is their relationship to the person/people they are with?
What kind of a job do they have?
Why are they there?
How is their day going?
Casually pay attention. Come up with your theories and see if you can confirm any of them. Listen intently to see if their conversation proves or disproves any of your hypothesis.
Or, if you are in a meeting at work, watch for the person's reactions to particular topics. Does their body language hint to their hidden opinions? Do they react consistently to each time the topic is brought up?
What can you notice that everyone else is missing?
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