There is a famous optical illusion where you are shown a black and white picture and asked what you see. There are two answers – a not very attractive man or more sophisticated lady – neither is right or wrong. Both are visible and apparent. The illusion is the question of which do you see. And strangely enough once you see the one…it is nearly impossible to see the other.
I was once sent the link to illusion by a best friend at work with the simple question – what do you see? And last week, some three years on, we were still having conversations based on this drawing and her question.
Her message – as I interpreted it – was that in any situation we either have a perception or a choice. Or maybe a perception and a choice. We can see the good or the bad. The beautiful or the ugly. The positive or the negative. The excitement or the worry. The challenge or the opportunity.
And this can be a perception – our view from where we sit or how we feel. Or it can be our choice – we can decide to look at our environment and our future in a positive way….or not.
And there is a second, even more important component to the puzzle – what stories do we tell about what we see?
There is a widely held philosophy that one of the best ways to change a culture – any culture anywhere – is through telling and sharing of stories. I know this is true for me – I listen to and learn from people’s stories all the time…stories about events, scenarios, experiences and other people. And I tell stories all the time.
Stories work because they allow us to share our experiences. It’s not possible for us all to have had the same experiences as everyone or anyone else. And neither is it desirable or beneficial. We benefit and grow from diversity…individually and collectively.
But our experiences create our beliefs, and our beliefs drive what we do. And culture is – at its simplest – how things are done around here. So I believe that stories share our experiences and thereby adjust our beliefs. And as our beliefs adjust, so how things are done around here will change. Stories change culture.
But the best stories are positive stories. The exciting ones. The amazing ones. Full of opportunity. The aha moments. So when we tell positive stories…when we chose to look at situations and scenarios in a positive way…when we adopt a positive outlook – the stories we tell are similarly engaging.
Stories of how we overcame, succeeded, enjoyed, helped, supported, laughed, benefitted. These are the stories we remember. These are the stories that we start to share. These are the stories we retell as if they happened to us. They almost become our own experiences. And in doing so they recreate what we believe and change our choice of actions.
So back to my best friend at work and our optical illusion – she wasn’t just asking what I could see. She was helping and advising me….encouraging and motivating me (which is what friends do for each other of course). She was telling her story to me about choices she makes.
I saw beauty and I can only see ugly if I try hard. I chose which stories I tell and I chose how I tell those stories. It is partly my perception but it is also my choice. We all have our moments – of course we do. And that is where best friends at work and at home come into their own.
But excitement and positivity are infectious…as are good stories.