Learning To See

Thinking Tools, Uncategorized

You’ve seen this image before, right?
Did you see the duck or the rabbit first?

This image has been floating around for a long time – since 1892, in fact. It first popped up in a German humor magazine and has been used in countless ways since. Some people have used it as a “creativity test”. There was even a study that showed that those who could easily see both the duck and the rabbit right away are roughly five times more likely to think creatively.

I love how this image captures the concept of “both/and”, or to be more technical, a polarity. If you stare at this image for a bit, you will probably notice how hard it is to see both the duck and the rabbit at the same time. Your brain will want to see one or the other.


Try it. Are you seeing one for a moment, then the other?

Our brains really like certainty and can’t actually multi-task. When we think we are multi-tasking, we are actually rapidly shifting attention back and forth from one thing to another.

This design feature of the human brain can be a little problematic. Our tendency to see the world through the “either/or” lens and to feel completely right about what we think we see (“That’s not a rabbit! It’s a duck!) gets us in trouble a lot more often than we’d like to admit. Like when we notice something about another person and then hyper focus on that aspect, at the exclusion of other (often opposite) aspects. Or we settle in on a perception of something and mentally eliminate all other possibilities.

My boss is critical.
My co-worker is rude.
AI technology is scary.

Once your brain settles in on what it “sees”, it feels right and locks that story in place.

We can, though, think in complex ways. It’s not always effortless or easy, but we can train ourselves to hold multiple perceptions together and see things differently. When you looked at this image and saw the duck or the rabbit, if you allowed your brain to consider that there was something else there, you could eventually see the other, right?


Take a second and look at this image again.

This time, look at how the artist constructed it and appreciate how clever it is. It is both a duck and a rabbit. One is not truer than another.

That boss is critical, and also supportive.
That co-worker is rude, and also kind.
AI technology is scary, and also exciting.

It takes mental effort and intentionality, but when we can see multiple facets to people, processes and ideas, we see the world more as it actually is, not just as we want to see it, or as we might first see it.

What are the things in your life that might be more complex than you’ve thought them to be?

What are the aspects of the people in your life that you haven’t seen or given attention to?

What are the aspects of yourself that you don’t see?

Just some food for thought.