What do you see when you read this sign? I see the word “DISASTER”, other people see “DISA STR.” Obviously the right answer is Disa Str., since it is a street sign for Disa Street, a small street in Greyton, Western Cape, South Africa. But every time I see it, my brain just glosses over the missing E and makes sense of the word based on words I already know. My brain ignores the missing information and looks at the gestalt (the big picture, the whole).
Depending on how your brain works you will be more gestalt focused or more detail focused. The detail people will immediately see that it cannot be “disaster” because there is no “E”. Neither approach right or wrong, it is just different ways of seeing the world…but these different ways of seeing the world do have consequences. You will find both types of people in the world and in the world of the creative. Detail people will be amongst the programmers in your office, the gestalt people will be amongst the designers, but there is always the exception.
Gestalt people are like prey animals who graze and live in herds in the wild. They need to be constantly looking out for predators and they need to be able to make quick decisions so that they can run away at the slights sign of danger. In terms of self protection this is a great strategy, we will never underestimate risk. This type of brain does not need ALL the information to make a decision; it can use bits of information and intuitively put them together to make a whole. So we don’t have to wait until the whole lion comes out of the bushes and is only six feet from our faces. We can see a little bit of an eye, some lion mane and maybe hear a lion sized rustle in the bushes and we know there’s a lion, long before we see all the details of the actual lion. The up side of this is that Gestalt people are quick to learn, we can join in with a team easily and intuitively without having all the information, we can get things done quickly and without too much of a back story. The down side is that sometimes we add 2+2 and get 5. We can over simplify or misunderstand because we have overestimated what the parts mean. For example, I once had a colleague who said he would like me to attend an important work meeting because I can see what is coming and I can often work out what is going on before he has realised it. We laughed and agreed that I can do that but we also sighed about my tendency to, once in a while, think I see something bad coming when in fact nothing at all is happening or on the way.
Detail people are like animals who are gathers, like baboons. They need to keep very focused on specific details to the exclusion of the surrounds. A baboon needs to know one berry from another berry, and not just see ‘berries’ because some are poisonous and some are nutritious. The details are important for gathers, their life depends on it. So the upside of working with a detail person is that they will always add 2+2 and get 4, their judgement is logical and evidenced based and usually consistent. The down side of working with a detail person is that they will not usually add 2+2 and get 22. They can’t blend easily, their processing can be rigid and this rigidity slows them down. The rigidity also means that they are often not able to see alternative ways of looking at things other than the one that is obvious to them.
Detail and gestalt people can make a great team because they complement each other’s skills and deficits. But they can also make a terrible team. Gestalt people get extremely impatient when the detail people are slow to see the whole picture, when they have to explain every little step in the process. Detail people think gestalt people are slightly crazy and never understand what they are saying. Because a gestalt person doesn’t need all the bits of information to understand the story, they often fail to communicate all the bits to others. A detail person often struggles to follow the gestalt person when they are talking or explaining something.
So which type of processor are you? Who do you work with in your office? And how can you learn to work better together now that you know you both see the world in two very different ways? How can you open your mind by trying to be a little more of a detailed person or more of a gestalt person? What impact would it have on your creative process if you tried to swap roles and become the opposite type of processor to who you usually are?