How to Notice Opportunities by Turning Off Your Autopilot

Notice Opportunities

The modern world changes quickly and it expects us to think more creatively, to see new possibilities, to solve problems and innovate.

However, there is one big problem, we get used to everyday things and often miss out on noticing problems and opportunities because we are on autopilot.

For example, when you brush your teeth, do you ever think about whether you should start with the right side or the left side, the top or the bottom? You probably thought about this when you learned to brush your teeth but to make our life easier, our brain is set on autopilot for so many things in our lives.

When we stop and actually give us time to notice, it is amazing what we can see and do.

Like Dr. Suess puts it:

Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!

New world record

I recently read a great example of taking time to notice, in the book Think like a freak. It is about Kobi, a young Japanese man whose girlfriend heard about an eating contest that paid $5,000 to the winner and decided to sign him up.

Kobi had a slight build and stood barely 5ft 8ins, but he decided to use his brain and try to out-think other contestants. He studied earlier eating contests and by doing so he noticed an opportunity others had not been focusing on.

The contestants had to win three rounds and Kobi noticed that contestants tended to eat more than needed to get ahead in each round. Kobi decided to focus on eating just enough to get to the next round and this strategy helped Kobi win the $5,000 price.

After this success, Kobi decided to go pro and compete in Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. The goal of the competition was to eat as many hot dogs and buns as one could in 12 minutes. When Kobi first competed, the world record was 25 ⅛ hotdogs in 12 minutes.

Kobi studied previous competitions and noticed that contestants ate the hotdogs like most people eat hot dogs at BBQ’s, but the only difference was that they did it in a faster way. So Koby decided to test if he could be faster if he ate the hotdogs in a different way, so he broke the hotdogs in half, dunked the bun into his water cup and went fast in the beginning. This, among other things like getting a lot of sleep, doing weight training and jumping and wriggling while eating led to a new world record.

Kobi did not only win the competition, he almost doubled the world record by eating 50 hotdogs in only 12 minutes. This really changed the game and in following competitions, more contestants were able to eat a lot more hot dogs than the previous record of 25 ⅛ hotdogs.

How can you start noticing?

Tony Fadell, an inventor, designer, entrepreneur, and angel investor who has worked as a Senior Vice President for Apple, founded Nest Labs and is currently leading the Google Glass division, gave a great TED talk called The first secret of design is… noticing. 

In this talk, Tony talks about three tips that he uses to fight habituation and start noticing.

Look broader

His first tip is to look broader. A problem is a combination of several things that come before the actual problem and sometimes things that happen after the problem. When we take a step back and look at the big picture we may notice something we can change before the problem occurs, maybe we can remove things related to the problem or combine things to make it better.

Look closer

The second tip is to look closer. Sometimes looking at the smallest things and making it better, like a screw that comes with a product to hang it on the wall, can make customers happier and grow your business. As Tony says in the TED talk “So if we focus on those tiny details, the ones we may not see and we look at them as we say, “Are those important or is that the way we’ve always done it? Maybe there’s a way to get rid of those.””

Think younger

The third tip is to think younger. Tony says: “We all saw the world more clearly when we saw it for the first time, before a lifetime of habits got in the way. Our challenge is to get back there, to feel that frustration, to see those little details, to look broader, look closer, and to think younger so we can stay beginners.”

You can watch the whole TED talk here below and I hope you will notice something amazing in your world today :)


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About Birna Birgisdóttir

Birna Birgisdóttir is a Ph.D candidate, researching creativity and servant leadership. She enjoys learning new things and has a M.Sc. in International Business, B.Sc. in Business Administration, diploma in Human Resource Management and she is an Executive Coach as well as NLP Practitioner.

Birna loves new adventures; has travelled the world, scuba dived in Mexico, skydived in Las Vegas, surfed in Australia, meditated in India and climbed the highest peak in Iceland.

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