How to change your perspective

Creative individuals are not necessarily smarter than others. What makes them different is one invaluable skill; they are masters in changing their perspective.

Your perspective dictates what you perceive

We all know the story of the blind men coming across an elephant for the first time. One of the men feels the trunk of the elephant and is convinced he came across a large snake, another touches the sturdy leg of the elephant and believes it to be a tree-trunk and yet another man bumps into the flank of the elephant and thinks he walked straight into a wall. They all have only part of the information and how they ‘see’ the elephant is determined by their perspective.

You might not be convinced by an ancient fable about blind men, but ask yourself this: would you eat a rotting shark that has been buried in the ground for several months? If you think this is a delightful idea, you’re probably Icelandic. In the Netherlands, the country where I live, the idea of eating a decomposing shark fills people with disgust. Little do these Dutchies realise that they themselves are famous for eating rotting fish. After all, many Dutch people tend to eat a ‘zoute haring’ (salted –slightly rotting- herring) from time to time.


Some delicious salted herring – Flickr Creative Commons Image via hans westbeek 


We do not consider the fish we eat to be ‘off’. We are used to it and consider it perfectly edible.

It’s all a matter of perspective

Where the Dutch and the Icelandic have their peculiarly prepared fish, the French have their cheeses. While the average Frenchman will turn up his nose for rotting fish, there is little that would make a true Frenchman (or Française) happier than a piece of cheese in an advanced stage of decomposition. Most people can hardly be in the same room as some of the more ‘exquisite’ French cheeses, let alone eat it, but the French cherish their smelly dairy products almost as much as their finest wines.

These wines, of course, are much more universally adored.

This is probably because nobody actually stops to think about the fact that it’s basically rotten grape juice…


What is rotten and what is ripe is largely determined by the culture you grow up in. The Dutch consider fish to be rotten far before an Icelander would and will long have thrown away a banana that Surinamese people consider just right. In the tropics, fruits tend not to be eaten before they’ve gone mushy. My girlfriend lived part of her life in tropical Africa and regularly reminds me that the Dutch eat their fruits well before they’re actually ripe.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

The edibility of food is not the only thing that is determined by culture. Things and actions that are considered perfectly safe in one country can be forbidden in another for the ‘obvious’ danger they pose to society. A British cyclist found this out the hard way in China, where he was stopped by a police officer for having a light on his bike. “How would it be,” the policeman said to him, “if everybody did that?”

Changing your perspective

As I’ve described, your perspective determines how you view a situation. Once you realise this, you have the key to more original ideas in your hands. When you are trying to come up with more creative ideas, all you have to do is change your perspective. By looking at a situation with a ‘different pair of eyes’, you will almost certainly generate very different ideas.

Suddenly, waste is no longer waste. The creative individual sees discarded billboard posters or a remaining batch of envelopes with an outdated logo and views them as perfectly good resources for a colourful waste bin or a fancy notebook.

Or what to think of social entrepreneur Gerard Steijn. While travelling the world, Steijn saw the devastation that hurricanes and wars left in their wake. He looked at the enormous piles of rubble, but where others saw a hopeless mess, Steijn saw an opportunity. Steijn founded The Mobile Factory: a factory the size of a shipping container that transforms rubble into concrete lego blocks. This way, the company not only cleans up the mess but also produces cheap and qualitative houses for the local communities at an astonishing speed.

But what makes that some are very good at looking at a situation in a different way, and others… not so much? It seems that the ability to change their perspective comes naturally to some, yet proves nearly impossible to others.

One factor that appears to influence your capability of changing your perspective, is to how many different cultures you’ve been exposed.

Travelling and perspective

Research suggests that living in another country might make you more creative. Getting acquainted with another culture has a positive effect on creativity. It’s not enough to merely be abroad though. The key to getting a more flexible brain is “multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation.” In other words: truly submerge yourself in the other culture. Live with (and do as) the locals.

But what if travelling (let alone living in a different country for a while) is not an option? How do you become better at changing your perspective then?

In my next article, I’ll describe some simple techniques to quickly and easily change your perspective and generate much more creative ideas.



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Asking questionsUncover golden ideas - change your perspective