Beyond The Canonical Perspective

Made it myself

Let’s have some fun.  Grab a pen and some paper and draw a cup or a car or a house.  Done?  Great.  There’s this term – canonical perspective.  It comes out of some research first presented in 1981 by a guy named Palmer.  The short version of what he did was to ask folks to draw him something and he found that most people drew the object from the same perspective – slightly above, looking down, and a bit off to either the left or right.  Is that sort of what your drawing looks like?  Well, this point of view has been dubbed the “canonical perspective” and it’s today’s business thought.

Turns out that perspective is the one in which it’s easiest for people to recognize objects.  That means object identification  can be affected by the orientation of the object. Palmer, Rosch, and Chase (1981) coined the term canonical to describe perspectives in which identification performance is best.  Further research proved that’s how we imagine things.  It’s sort of how you expect to see things.  Turns out that if you don’t see it that way then the item (or subject) could be missed entirely.

The point is that this goes beyond identifying objects in my mind and into business.  We need to remember that things may not always be what they appear or how we think they should look.   More importantly, if we can push ourselves to look at things from a very different perspective, beyond the canonical and from places we haven’t previously tried, we might just find new and different things.  Have engineers take on a user perspective as they flesh out feature sets.  Have writers think about things from a business perspective and have business people try to understand the technical perspective on the deals they’re making.

Getting beyond the canonical perspective is one of the smartest things we can do.  Getting our teams beyond it is magic.

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