“To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish”: Avoiding single-perspective thinking

Barbara Probst

Photo series by Barbara Probst. Source: Wallpaper magazine.

How many times have you looked at an issue or problem solely from a single perspective?

I was flipping through the July edition of Wallpaper magazine recently as I waited for the person I was meeting to arrive and discovered a series by photographer Barbara Probst that showed the same subject from vastly different perspectives.

While the advent of drone photographs has rendered birds-eye views of coastline, trees and cities unsurprising, Probst distinctly employed the technique for fashion photography, combining typical shots of the subject with unique perspectives.

In the editorial accompanying the photos Probst writes:

“The story is about the same moment — but there are two stories, and one is not more important than the other, they have the same value. They say different things but they are all true.”

The last line is worth repeating: “The perspectives say different things but they are all true.” More common are limited horizons and truths. 

In a TED talk Malcolm Gladwell says “to a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish” (a meme he heard from market researcher Howard Moskowitz), which I take to mean we only see what we’re familiar with.

To learn more about the ripple effect and to see things more expansively, click here.

Probst’s observation about two stories can easily be expanded. Across an organisation, there are many stories. Any single issue, when viewed through the lens of another, will hold useful truths. You’ve just got to set up the camera and willingly look at the truths you find.

Each story is valuable and each perspective has a truth to tell — and Probst’s photos are proof of this.

From within a ‘fashion horseradish’, I see what I expect. A model in an expensive coat walks down the street, her somewhat blank expression offset by a bunch of colourful balloons.

But the overhead shot reveals a more faceted picture: no longer dominating the image, the model and balloons are now a small part of a broader tableau, which includes other people, buildings, shadows, parked cars and the geometry of pedestrian crossings intersecting at the smooth paved curve of the street corner. And suddenly, I can begin to imagine what additional truths yet another view might have to show me.

Brands too often fall to single perspective thinking, with marketing dominating the view. 

However, the things which build or erode a brand come from all parts of the organisation. Multiple truths become visible through the different lenses that breadth can provide — finance, technology, operations, products and services, distribution, leadership, customers, suppliers and investors. But you have to look.

See you next week.

NOW READ: Eleven pearls of wisdom from outgoing PepsiCo chief Indra Nooyi

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