Paul Jarvis

I’m giving notice

As a writer, the most valuable skill you can foster is your ability to notice things.

To listen for stories, for points of view, for questions asked of you, for phrases that catch your ear or your eye.

Stories often come from unlikely places. A few days ago I was listening to the Q (a big deal if you’re Canadian) while driving and The Lumineers were talking about their latest album and the story of their title track, “Cleopatra”.

It was a beautiful story about the first woman taxi driver in the Republic of Georgia. The day her father died, her boyfriend asked for her hand in marriage. Surprised and stricken by grief, she didn’t say anything. He took it for a “no” and walked out of her house, leaving a trail of mud across her floor from his boots. She never washed the mud off, never saw him again and regretted losing the love of her life due to bad timing. She didn’t want to stop noticing what she lost.

Stories are everywhere, if you notice. Everyone has at least a handful. I laugh when people tell me there’s nothing to write about because there’s everything to write about. You just have to notice the world around you.

As a creator, the most valuable skill you can foster is your ability to notice things.

Notice what people wish they knew. Pay attention to what they’re asking of you. Look for patterns in what people are talking about, questioning, wanting, needing, yearning for.

Creative Class (my first course) started because every day I’d get at least one email from someone asking a similar question about running their own business. They had the skills locked in for their craft, but not the business stuff. I noticed a very obvious pattern and created something accordingly. Then I paid attention and listened to the folks taking the course and altered it to be better for them. Each iteration of the course is based on what I notice students doing (or not doing).

As a human, the most valuable skill you can foster is your ability to notice things.

Not just about others, but about yourself. How does what you’re doing make you feel? What’s the reason you’re doing what you’re doing? How does it serve your purpose? What is your purpose?

Noticing doesn’t mean judgement. Judgment and attention are very different and don’t tend to happen at the same time. Noticing means you’re open to learning and listening. Judgment means you’ve stopped listening (and stopped learning) and are busy forming your own opinions.

If I’m too busy simply waiting for my turn to talk or waiting for you to finish saying something so I can refute, debate or deny it, then I’m not noticing anything – not about myself nor about what you’re saying. I’m closed off to noticing because I’m too busy judging.

Noticing also doesn’t mean hearing. Hearing something can be passive and unconscious, whereas noticing requires a bit of focus. It means you’re paying attention and being consistent with it.

There’s background music playing as I write this and although I’m aware of it, I haven’t noticed anything about it (or the stories it holds). I actually just realized that the music I thought was playing (PostData’s self-titled album from 2010 – how Canadian of me) was actually playing through headphones on my desk (which were nowhere near my ears).

Pay attention and you’ll start to notice things. About yourself, about other people, about your customers, about the world and about where you want to be in it.

Noticing means we’re open to exploring ideas. Noticing means we’re paying attention without bias. And amazing things can happen when we do.

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