The Tuesday Take: Observation

 Creative opportunities come from observation.

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” Yet another one of the astute quips Sherlock Holmes offers to Watson. Creative thinking comes from intentionally being aware of the situations we go through day to day, and how we chose to interpret them, whether passively or actively. But, how can we train our thinking to see what is familiar in an unfamiliar way?

With regards to this marvel we’re looking at here, “Traffic Light Tree” is a public sculpture created by the French sculptor Pierre Vivant. It is Eight metres tall and contains 75 sets of lights, each controlled by computer. What a beautiful, inspiring and engaging example of ordinary viewed differently.

One of the tricks that I find helpful is intentionally becoming aware of our patterns in life, and occasionally disrupting them. Brush your teeth with your right, try with the left. Take a certain route to your favourite local coffee joint? try another. Complacency ultimately is the enemy of creativity and observation comes from being curious more than anything else. Instead of looking at things in a wholistic manner, what about if we viewed them as combined individual parts?


Naming is another tool, as socially common traded names for objects only lead us down a more complacent path, what’s to stop us from creating new names for the everyday objects that we encounter?

Ultimately, creativity is not about seeking out the extraordinary, but rather about discovering the extraordinary within the ordinary.

This leads me to journalling, a quintessential key for keeping your creative mind active and sharp. I love those thin pocket Moleskin’s that are sold in pack of three’s and have hundreds of them myself. I always have one in my back pocket and seize every opportunity to put pen to paper to describe, draw, name, examine, define and explain the world around me, to myself and others.

The great French mathematician Blaise Pascal said: “Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary.”


This interplay between the ordinary and the extraordinary is a recurring theme in creative pursuits. Take, for instance, the humble paperclip. Invented in the late 19th century, this simple wire loop has become an indispensable office tool. Yet, it’s also been the subject of countless creative endeavors, from sculptures and jewelry to functional hacks and ingenious solutions as seen in many MacGyver episodes.

Although, I think we can collectively agree that the Microsoft Office Assistant “Clippy” was a terrible terrible mistake.

Ultimately, creativity is not about seeking out the extraordinary, but rather about discovering the extraordinary within the ordinary. It’s about paying attention, asking questions, challenging assumptions, and embracing that unknown. By cultivating a curious and open mind, we can tap into our innate creativity and transform the world around us, and maybe ourselves as well while we’re at it. There’s a MacGyver in us all.

So, the next time you find yourself staring blankly at a traffic light, waiting for it to change, remember Pierre Vivant’s Traffic Light Tree. And then, perhaps, take a moment to consider the poetic possibilities of the humble street lamp or the hidden beauty of a crack in the pavement. Who knows, you might just stumble upon your own epiphany.

Just remember, if anyone asks what you’re doing, tell them you’re practicing your observation skills. Or, you know, just say you’re waiting for the light to change. No judgment here.

Image via Wiki Commons.

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