Now the Observe section would appear to a simple step. After all observe is just another word for see, right? And we see stuff every day.
Well, yes and no. Yes, we do see stuff, lots of stuff. We also hear and feel it to. Our senses pick thousands of pieces of information all the time: Seeing, hearing, tasting, and touching are merely sensory inputs to our brains. The observing occurs when our brain takes these inputs and starts to make sense of them. Given the sheer volume of information we are bombarded with the brain has to filter out the important from the trivial: The signal from the noise. And that is where the No can occur. Because we can hear, feel, taste, and see without observing. If we are focusing on a particular issue then our brain can ignore other inputs – tune them out. Who has not been taken to task by someone close to us for not listening to them? We tuned them out.
So although we think that the Observe section of the loop is the easiest it is in fact one of the hardest parts and in many instances it is where we make our first errors.
In meetings we ignore key information because it is presented by someone we dislike or don’t respect. The presentation is boring, delivered in a monotone voice. The information is hinted at rather than explicitly stated. It doesn't directly affect our department, project or product. We've been up late the night before with a sick child or at a party, and are not paying attention. The causes may vary, but the end result is that data is not observed, and because we don’t observe it we can’t process it.
Now in the Observe phase we aren’t only receiving new data, we are receiving information about our business environment, the impact of previous actions, the interrelations between stakeholders; and we aren’t going to get them all at the same time. There is no package delivered to our senses once a day labeled ‘new stuff’.
So we have to train ourselves to ‘observe’ our environment.
In the wild, animals never focus on just one thing. They are always checking on their surroundings for changes and threats. That’s why being in a group, herd or flock is safer than being on your own: Someone else can be watching while you’re grazing. Same with teams, they need to keep an eye on the surroundings for threats, problems, or opportunities.
So the Observe section involves processing new information, which includes the impact of previous actions, changes in the environment – physical and business -, new developments, and changes in our own preconceptions. Plus all of these pieces of information bring with them elements of uncertainty; few come with a stamp of certainty, most convey ambiguity.
Don't take the Observe section lightly, after all it's the part where the real world intersects with your mental world.