Dede Laurentino is a Brazilian ECD working in London.
He was telling me what most amazed him about coming to the UK was the Cabinet War Rooms.
He said he couldn’t believe he was in the very place Churchill had conducted the war.
He’d read about it of course, but suddenly it was real, it registered on a visceral level.
He asked me if I’d been to the War Rooms. I said no.
He was surprised, he asked why.
I said it didn’t seem so unusual to me.
London is where I grew up.
Seeing where Churchill had sheltered from the air raids wasn’t very different from what my family and everyone else had done.
I said the only time history ever registered on that level with me was when I got a job as a deck hand on a tramp-steamer.
At dawn, I was alone on watch, just off the coast of Montevideo.
Suddenly it hit me, this was where the Battle of the River Plate actually happened.
HMS Ajax, HMS Exeter, and HMS Achilles sank the Graf Spee right here.
That’s when I felt it, rather than just thought it.
But Dede wasn’t so impressed with that.
Because the River Plate was as ordinary to him as London was to me.
That’s the part of the world he grew up in.
But London, to him, was on the other side of the world, far away and exotic, as Montevideo was to me.
In his book The Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam explains that we value things, like ideas, that come from further away, much more.
Things close to home seem more ordinary, more commonplace, so we don’t see the value.
Things from a long way off are new and fresh, and therefore more interesting and exciting.
That’s why Bill Brandt gave this advice on photography.
“It is part of the photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time, or of the traveller who enters a strange country.”
We must retain the freshness of a traveller in a strange country.
I try to do that on my way into work some mornings.
I try to imagine I’m a tourist seeing London for the first time.
It really does make me appreciate it more.
In Farnam Street Blog, Shane Parrish sums it up like this.
“When things are nearby, they’re concrete and you can see all the details. On the other hand, when things are far away, they’re much more abstract. So thinking about things that are far and near puts us in different mental states.
When you think about things nearby, you see the details, and so when a creative idea comes along, the first thing you ask is not “Is it great?” but “What are the problems?”
And that’s why, he says, new ideas don’t get properly evaluated.
“Creativity and innovation in organisations is inherently difficult. Because the people who make the decisions tend to be the ones with the most experience. The experience spots big mistakes but it makes it harder to see out-of-the-box possibilities.”
Which may be why organisations often say they want innovation, creativity, and fresh thinking when they really don’t.
“The skills associated with innovators overlap with the ones organisations don’t like, such as questioning and experimentation.”