Visual Intelligence: Make Better High-Stakes Decisions

Amy Herman teaches visual intelligence to doctors, intelligence analysts and the NYPD. Here she runs through how to make decisions you can defend under questioning: ones that are perceptive and informed.

Amy Herman: Visual intelligence is the concept that we see more than we can process and it's the idea of thinking about what we see, taking in the information and [asking] what do we really need to live our lives more purposefully and do our jobs more effectively? I work across the professional spectrum. So I work with police officers and intelligence analysts and doctors and nurses and librarians, but what's interesting for me is that the four A's are applicable to all of that. And what they are is any new situation, any new problem, any new client, any new transaction, any new environment that you're in you practice the four A's.

The first one is: you assess your situation. What do I have in front of me? What information is here? I want people to go beyond the four corners of what they think they see. So this is what's in front of me; this is where I am. Ask someone. This is my situation; here's where I am; this is what I see. Is there something here I might be missing? Because by asking someone else we realize that no two people see anything the same way. So, of course, that doesn't work all the time but if you're in an office situation, if you're in a medical situation and you have the opportunity to collaborate, you get the biggest picture of your assessment if you ask other people what they see as well.

The second step is to analyze the information. That's where you break it down and you say: what's important? What do I need to prioritize? What's most important? And what don't I really have to worry about at all? I find that when you make a mental list in your head: "Okay here's my situation" and you divide it into categories: information I need, information I might need, and information I definitely don't need. And for the information that you definitely don't need put it away because our brains are so cluttered with so much information that if you can from the outset get rid of some information do it, but keep that middle category information that you might need because you might have to draw on it when you don't realize that it's important. It could become more important as the process goes on.

The third A, I think, is actually the most important. It's how you articulate what you observe. Whether you send an email, whether you pick up the phone, whether you tell a colleague, whether you write it down, the idea of putting into words what your observations are is the most important because I tell all my groups I don't know why this is but something gets lost from here to here to here. Our brains and our eyes see something but when it comes to articulating those observations, whether it's poor choice of words or an inability to communicate effectively there's a real loss that I'm trying to redress. I ask people to be mindful of every word. Every word counts. And an example that I can give you that I give in the book was the investigation of the murder of Chandra Levy in Washington DC back in 2001. When the instruction was given to look for the body, the instruction was to 'look 100 yards from every trail in the park where she disappeared', but when the instruction was repeated they said 'look 100 yards from every road in the park'. Now the change of one word from trail to road changed the whole scope of the investigation. So in that third A, in that articulating what you observe, I ask people be mindful of every word because someone is listening and every word counts.

And the fourth A is after you've assessed, analyzed and articulated what it is that you observe you adapt your behavior or you make a decision or as I like to say you act. You take all that information then you make a judgment call based on those three other elements. I want people to act according to their observations so if you're ever questioned about why you made a certain decision, why did you take a certain road, why did you solve a problem this way, you're able to go back to the other A's and say 'Well I thought the situation was this. This was the information I thought was important. I perceived this therefore I made this decision.' Give yourself the tools to back up the decisions you make so that when your questioned about your decisions you have all the information you need to make a thoughtful purposeful and objective assessment of why you made the decision. 

 

Amy Herman created and conducts all sessions of ‘The Art of Perception’, an education program that was initially used to help medical students improve their observation skills. Often in diagnostics, you’re not looking for what you can see, but what you can’t – this is called the 'pertinent negative'. The same goes for investigations, and so the program was adapted for the New York City Police Department, and other intelligence agencies. Really, Herman says, it’s about fine-tuning something we take as a given: our visual intelligence. This refers to the concept that we see more than we can possibly process. What we register is just a fraction of the world around us, so how can we see more? Like any other skill or muscle, to get the most and best use out of it, it needs training.


According to Herman, we need to think more consciously about what we see and deliberately take information in so that we can do our jobs more effectively and live our lives more purposefully. To that end, she runs us through a building block of ‘The Art of Perception’ course: The Four A’s.

Tune into the video above for four practical steps to make more perceptive and informed decisions. Amy Herman is the author of Visual Intelligence:Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.