Seeing the deep-space view

Do you recognize the bright stars in this scene? You’ve almost certainly seen them: they’re the 3 stars of Orion’s belt. But I’ll bet you’ve never seen them like this.

The photo, featured last week as NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, is a composite of several long-exposure images taken from a remote location in the Canary Islands.

In this deep-space view you can see the 3 familiar stars along with hundreds of fainter stars and other structures like the Orion Nebula and (near the leftmost of the 3 stars) the Horsehead Nebula and the Flame Nebula.

If you go outside right now and look at Orion’s belt, whether or not you can see anything besides the 3 stars, all of that other stuff is there too. It’s always there, even though it might be hidden from the observer.

The deep-space view

I’ve found that the professional world is the same way. Whenever I look at a situation involving people and projects on the job, I can be sure there’s more than what I can see at first glance.

Here’s an example: In a former job I chatted with a manager who’d recently been hired to run one of my company’s branch offices. She was glad to be there, she said, and anxious to start improving processes and efficiency. She was already sure that the writing team at that location would need training in the tools and processes.

I welcomed her warmly to the company and promised to help with the training in any way I could.

About 3 months later this manager unceremoniously left the company, never having taken me up on my offer. Some time after that, I asked a trusted colleague from that office what had happened.

Nobody could stand her, he told me. She was an efficiency expert, but her my-way-or-the-highway attitude rankled everyone. All the more because she didn’t understand our business at all.

When I first talked with that manager, I saw the situation from one viewpoint: hers. The staff needed to be brought up to speed, and she was eager to get to work. I was happy to offer my support.

Only later, when I talked with my colleague, did I get the deep-space view. I saw the same situation, but now I saw it more fully. When the manager saw deficiencies in the staff, she didn’t have a full grasp of the work they were doing. When she spoke cordially with me — a peer — I never guessed that she was speaking to her subordinates in a most uncordial way.

And what sounded to me like enthusiasm was actually a rush to judgment.

If I’d had the deep-space view from the beginning, would I have been so quick to offer my support? Yes, I think I would have. But it wouldn’t have been such an unqualified show of support.

Instead of offering to help specifically with the thing she requested — training the staff — I would’ve offered to be a sounding board, to help her get oriented. I would’ve tried to suggest that she look beyond what was obvious (obvious to her, anyway).

Beyond the obvious

I find constantly that I need to look beyond the obvious. I can’t just take an SME’s word for it that a product feature has to be documented in a certain way. On the other hand, when a colleague tells me the same SME is impossible to work with, I can’t accept that at face value either.

In short, I’ve learned that I dare not do the same thing I’ve accused that manager of doing: rush to judgment. Even when I think I comprehend a situation, I need to keep my eyes and ears open until I get the deep-space view.

That doesn’t mean I can’t more forward based on what I can see today. It means that, as I move forward, I need to seek several viewpoints and not rely on any one person’s viewpoint — especially my own. As I perceive more and understand more, I might need to make course corrections.

The deep-space view. When I can see it, I’m a much more effective professional. It’s also, as the NASA photo attests, infinitely more beautiful and interesting than a superficial, first-glance view.

What techniques do you use to see beyond the obvious and get the deep-space view?

4 thoughts on “Seeing the deep-space view

  1. Marcia Riefer Johnston

    Larry, I appreciate these insights and skillful way you weave the stories together.

    Your message reminds me of the wisdom that my daughter acquired in the Peace Corps. Volunteers are trained to spend their first six months—that’s a quarter of the typical two-year stint—getting a feel for things in that location before assessing needs or proposing programs. Volunteers are trained to get the deep-space view as assignment #1.

    Even after that six months passes, volunteers know that their purpose is not to tell their communities what to do; it’s to support them in coming up with projects that they care about and are committed to sustaining after the volunteer is gone.

    To take the deep-space view is to view with the understanding that at some point you, the viewer, will no longer be there to do the viewing.

    Thanks again, Larry, for the thoughtful piece.

    1. Larry Kunz Post author

      Thanks, Marcia. I didn’t know that the Peace Corps trains people in that way — but good for them. I’m sure it’s a big reason why it’s still going strong after 50-plus years.


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