Visual Intelligence

This is one of my favorite books I’ve read. It is a great how to book and will improve your observation skills, situational awareness, and communication skills.

The book, Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life, is written by Amy E. Herman who is an art historian and a lawyer. She teaches others to use observation in their everyday life for both work and personal improvement. I highly encourage all to read this book. As a side benefit, it will increase your appreciation for art.

Below I will quote parts of the book and make notes for my future reference.

The book is broken into four parts (Four A’s): Assess, Analyze, and Articulate, and Adapt.

Also, Autopilot – turn it off. We tune out due to habits, boredom, laziness, and overstimulation. “When we walk through the world on autopilot, our eyes might seem to take everything in, but in reality we are seeing less than we could if we were paying closer attention.” p15

Slowing Down will combat the stress of speed and distraction stream. Learn to trust yourself (put your phone away).


  • Seeing can be thought of a the automatic, involuntary recording of images. Observing is seeing, but consciously, carefully, and thoughtfully.
  • Practice observing. “The more you exercise your memory skills, the better you will become at them” p35
  • Perception is how we interpret the information we gather during observation. p41
  • Our perceptive filter is shaped by our own unique experiences in the world. p42
  • To get the most accurate picture of anything, we need to see others’ perceptions and recognize others’ points of view. p44
  • Observation is the study of facts. p51
  • Remember labels shape opinions and create prejudice. p55 Try to ignore them.
  • The process:
    • Look first
    • Then, Consult other preexisting information or opinions
    • Then, Look again
  • To make sure a fact is a fact, verify every time
  • Whenever you are looking at something, study it thinking: who, what, when, where.
  • Be careful to keep observations as objective and not subjective. “One way to ensure that our observations are objective is to quantify them by counting, estimating, or using measuring tools.” p77
  • Measure whenever you can, estimate when you can’t, but always use numerical values. p77
  • Find a concrete noun – NOT smells bad, but smells like a dead fish
  • Be careful to draw conclusions using only objective data, not opinions
  • Perception requires attention, so we need to actively seek out details. p95
  • Uncover hidden details using COBRA
    • Concentrate on the camouflaged
    • Work on one thing at a time
    • Take a break – take a brief mental break (something completely different) every 20 min
    • Realign our expectations
    • Ask someone else to look with us


  • “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.” Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
  • By consciously acknowledging the lay of the land from all angles when you approach a new location, you capture a more complete picture of your surroundings that you can recall no matter what direction you’re headed. p127 (FBI head-swivel technique)
  • …the ability to imagine others’ viewpoints, reactions, and concerns is one of the most important cognitive tools we humans possess, as it makes us not only more sympathetic to others but more discerning when dealing with them – or when imagining how we should deal with them. p133
  • Empathy is the demonstrative act of stepping into the shoes of another person and understanding their feelings and perspectives. p134
  • When sharing your world with someone else, use these questions to make sure you’re taking a complete inventory: p137
    • What am I tuning out?
    • What might I be taking for granted?
    • What would someone else coming into my world not know?
  • To help organize data and find the most important elements of any situation, you ask three questions: p153
    • What do I know?
    • What don’t I know?
    • If I could get more information, what do I need to know?
  • Urgent tasks put us in reactive mode p167
    • Places you in a defensive, negative, hurried, and narrowly focused mindset
  • Important tasks put us in responsive mode p167
    • Helps you remain calm, rational, and open to new opportunities
  • How you prioritize can tell the world a lot about you. p169
  • Prioritization can change depending on circumstances.


  • We build the best message with the same study of planning, practice, and thoughtful execution.
    • Step 1: Prudent Planning. p181
    • Step 2: Practice – The practice is the art. p190
    • Step 3: Editing – perhaps the most important. p193
  • When in professional or public situations, we need to communicate using only objective language. p182
  • Surefire, always safe objective words include numbers, colors, size, sounds, position, placement, materials, location, and time. p182
  • Communicate using objective facts. p183
  • Replace exclusive words with inclusive. p184
    • “What if you tried…” vs “This doesn’t work for me.”
  • Add specificity
  • …before we communicate we should step into the shoes of our potential audience and make sure we’re including all of the facts that would be pertinent to them but also translating that knowledge into a language that can readily be understood and accepted. p190
  • Purge regularly. Destroying is intimately connected to creating. p193 on editing.
  • When we communicate, we need to make sure we aren’t obscuring our message with “too much” by talking too much, using too many words, or including unnecessary information. p194
  • There is one gesture that we should universally avoid: pointing. p204
  • To ensure communication is received, use the three R’s: p205
    • Repeating – ask receiver to repeat it back or to rank it. p206
    • Renaming – when we reach a barrier of understanding, a simple name change can be all that’s required to overcome it. p206-207
    • Reframing – If the information you’re trying to convey isn’t resonating with your audience, try to reframe how you are presenting it. p207
  • Both art and communication are: an invitation. An invitation to let others into our brain, to let them know what we see and how we see it. p210
  • To avoid leaving information behind, we have to be able to describe things accurately no matter what the situation. p211 (Even if troubling or uncomfortable)
  • Say what you see, not what you think. p214
  • Effective communication means being able to talk about any pertinent subject, even that which is uncomfortable, unusual, or unsettling. p215
  • We cannot turn away from things we don’t like. p215
  • We need to believe what we see even when it means we might have to think the unthinkable and say the unspeakable. p220
  • …the willingness to tackle difficult subjects and situations can earn you the admiration of your boss, your customer, your potential donor, even your loved ones. p222
  • When we are emotionally overwhelmed and can’t seem to think straight, we can always fall back on the same … model we’ve learned to use to gather facts: who, what, where, and when. p223
  • True leaders can handle an uncomfortable conversation as easily as a crisis. p223
  • If you need to convey a feeling, use emotion (I love you). When you need to convey a fact, eliminate emotion unless that’s all you want in return (your performance is below par). p225
  • If you find you are becoming emotional, step back, assess, and evaluate.
  • In heated debate: …attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” p228
  • Reframe outstanding concerns as questions rather than problems. p231
  • If repeating, renaming, and reframing doesn’t work and the person you’re communicating with still won’t let go until blame is assigned, go ahead and assign itto the situation. p232
  • Do not respond emotionally!
    • Instead: absorb, process, let the negative feelings flow, then let it go. Be emotionally self-aware.
  • Approach the difficult in life the same way you approach the difficult in art. Take your time and gather the facts. p235-236
    • Analyze them and prioritize them.
    • Take a step back and consider things from alternative perspectives.
    • Consider your body language and nonverbal communication and that of others.
    • Be objective, accurate, and precise.
    • And know that the result of learning how to separate the subjective emotions from objective communication is confidence.


  • Personal experience is a valid resource that we can and should use to mine visual data for more facts – as long as we adhere to three simple rules: p254
    • Rule 1: Become aware of our biases and boot the bad ones
    • Rule 2: Don’t mistake biases for facts; Instead use them to find facts
    • Rule 3: Run our conclusions past others
  • In any situation, but especially in one that’s gray, we need to focus on what we do know and let go of what we don’t. p260
  • A problem is a problem (including subjective problems). … We must respond objectively even when the situation itself is subjective. In doing so, we might not be able to eliminate hard-to-solve problems, but we can minimize our risks when things get messy. p263