There’s a meditation that I do where I get grounded and present by focusing on each of my senses, one at a time. Usually I have similar observations with each sense as I did during the previous meditation, except with listening. I think listening is the most temporal and exciting the all the senses and is open to the most changes. You don't run the dishwasher all day. Trains pass at specific times. As do helicopters or planes. Sometimes, I'll do this meditation to simply learn more about my surroundings and discover something new around or outside my apartment. I'll hear birds singing outside, the lights humming, the fan for the air conditioning or heat, voices from the hallway, my neighbors watching a movie, or doing other activities. Sound waves travel far. That's why I like listening. It is a way for me to understand what’s happening beyond my immediate location at that specific moment.
Every time I do this meditation, I’m always amazed at what I discover. My fridge can be really noisy. So can my washing machine. Even the dryer. There are times I wonder if my neighbors are watching “Terminator” based on the booms I hear through the walls. I'll hear pets scurrying somewhere in the building. I have even heard crickets trying to find warmth in the walls.
I think I re-learned the key to listening during this meditation. You listen because you are curious what’s around you at that moment in time.
When I meditate, I'm not really focused on looking to hear what I'd like to hear. Instead, I am focused on receiving and observing what is being presented to me. Like the post yesterday, your intention matters when you are listening.
Rather than listening to see if I hear the hum and roar of the train passing by my house, I hear a dog bark down the hall. Or I hear the washing machine cleaning clothes. Or I hear a noisy neighbor playing music way too loud. I am accepting the data that is being presented to me at that time.
And I'm curious about what this new information is telling me. When I meditate and hear the dog bark down the hall, I wonder who's dog it is? What is happening for the dog to bark? I start to create a story in my head about the situation; I can't help it. That is part of curiosity and wonder. But then I bring myself back to the present and focus on what I do know about what's happening. Honestly, I don't know what is causing the dog to bark; I can only speculate. I only know what is really happening if I go outside of my apartment, find the dog and observe the situation around it. When I am present, I take the information given to me at face value and discern what needs greater investigation to discover more to the story.
In business we need to do something similar. We need to accept the information that is presented to us, focus on the numbers we see, read what is being said in the posts and listen to the calls coming into customer support and determine what's missing from the story to satisfy our curiosity. Then we go listen to find information to fill in those blanks.
By not gathering information to create a satisfying story, we risk creating a story that we want to be true. It is so easy to do. It's hard to return to customers to get the right information to collect more data and get the insights we need. But we need to be present and accept the information gifts customers are giving to us now.
Years ago, I was observing a usability test with a handful of colleagues. We were testing a new homepage design with four participants. Two of the participants couldn't complete the test tasks and weren't a fan of the design. The other two completed the tasks with some success but also weren't liking the design. The VP was desperately looking for this redesign project that was taking way too long to complete (we were over our timeline by 6 months) to be successful, so she proclaimed it a success. My colleagues and I were confused. We witnessed a very different result.
I think the VP was looking at the situation with expectations and saw what she wanted to see. The rest of us entered the observation activity with no expectations and saw what was presented to us. They were two very different stories based on two very different listening styles based on our intentions.
When we are present, we aren't worried about the future or how to make a program or feature successful. But we are concerned about what our customers are saying right now, why, and their thoughts regarding it. And if we don't see data that supports our ideas or arguments, we find another way to listen to our customers - a new survey, usability test, a focus group, a social media listening exercise.
Being present allows us to examine what we are hearing, seeing, and observing at the moment and bring curiosity to discover more about the customer's viewpoint. In this case, there isn't a story already created that needs facts to validate it. It is a story that is being created by the customer information being provided. The customers are telling the story; the company is listening to it. That's why the best insights come when you have no expectations.