Several years ago, I replaced four cracked tiles in my kitchen floor. I couldn’t find matching ones but I got close—kind of. Disappointed after the tile guy left, I showed a friend who comforted me, “Don’t worry. You can’t even tell it’s a patch.” Can’t even tell?! I thought, trying not to roll my eyes. So I decided to conduct a little experiment to find out if she was right.
My research tested how conspicuous the new tile was, but what really surfaced was how attention works when it comes Native Genius. When you understand what I discovered, you’ll download a new level of compassion for yourself and others. Inside that compassion you’ll find more capability to direct your days toward the activities you love—and, if you’re a manager, to get the right person in the right role.
My first unsuspecting research participant walked in. I ask Lucien, “Notice anything new about my kitchen?”
He looked around. “Uhhhh. Hmmm. Let’s see...is that a new light?” I shook my head. “You cleaned the windows?” After a few more head shakes, I offered a hint. “It’s related to the floor.” His eyes scanned the tiles, right over the patch, and kept scanning. “Hmm, I dunno, looks like the same floor.” He didn’t see the mismatched tiles. Even though his eyes scanned them, the tiles did not register in his consciousness.
The next research respondent is Steve. He scans the room starting at the ceiling, then to eye level, then to chair level, then the floor. “These four tiles are new,” he says.
With my research participants, what they noticed—or didn’t—aligned with their Native Genius. Your Native Genius has selective attention. Most of us don’t notice the selective functioning of our attention and assume that everyone pays attention to the same things that we pay attention to. In assuming that everyone’s attention is the same, we miss how attention works and how special it is.
Lucien is one of the best at building connections with people. He works in customer success and relationship management. If you were to ask him something like, “Who felt left out at the party?” or “Which of our customers is likely to stop purchasing from us?” he would know in a heartbeat. His attention automatically goes to relationship dynamics because his Native Genius is firing. He can’t help but notice that.
Steve is a plein air landscape painter and construction manager of custom homes. His attention naturally goes to the nuances of color, light, and how objects are put together. What he does with light and color in his oil paintings is remarkable.
It would be easy to say that Lucien’s and Steve’s abilities to notice comes from how they’ve each been trained. But I would argue (all day long) that the opposite is true. How their attention works is what propelled them into their work in the first place.
First: the attention element of Native Genius can give you so much more compassion for yourself and others. Your co-workers or family are not lazy or inattentive (and neither are you). Their attention just doesn’t work that way; neither does yours. One time my husband composted an entire bag of this gorgeous fresh arugula I had just made a special trip to the farm stand to get—on the one day they were open that week. I was disappointed—very—but I got it, because like the floor tiles, he just didn’t notice it was a brand new bag vs. a bag of week old slop. Rather than seeing how attention does not work, look for how it does work.
Second: what you notice is related to what lights you up. Engage with that and follow it. Every day you automatically notice or ignore thousands of things. What are those things? Do you notice numbers, people’s feelings, design choices, etc.? My husband loves making things minimal, whether it’s a headline or the stuff in our garage. Whenever I lose something around the house, my husband can find it in about five minutes. And he has fun doing it. He has photographic attention (and memory) for where things are in the house, because his attention goes to what is essential and where it’s placed. In fact, that new bag of arugula he threw out—he threw it out precisely because it was in the spot where we put the recycling and compost to be taken to the bin. His attention saw what the location meant, not the contents in the location. Given the way his attention is wired, it was working perfectly when he threw out the fresh bag of arugula.
Third: when you need help, find the person who naturally pays attention to the things you need help with. Given how Native Genius works, each person will have micro specialties within their roles. For instance, a web developer might be awesome at SEO but not delivering on making the text and graphics consistent across the site. Like the four tiles, they probably just don’t see it. Getting them to see it might be like getting a fish to climb a tree. You might end up banging your head against said tree. Better to go with nature than against it.
How we pay attention and what we notice are special and unique to each of us. Start to notice yourself noticing, and others too — it’s like x-ray vision into Native Genius.
Welcome to your new superpower.