This question really struck me the first time I heard it: Do colours actually exist in the “real world”?

The discussion that followed provided little insight, but subsequent research pointed me to my visual cortex and the fact that my brain actually paints every scene we “see“. Nor does it stop there.

It also puts shapes on everything and even runs facial recognition on anything that looks like it has two eyes and a nose. It is an impressive feat, and this magic happens every moment in which our visual systems are active. That is why it can be such a relief to close our eyes.

So, from a purely physiological perspective we create the world we see. It is not that there is nothing “out there”, but our brains certainly colour and shape what we see, primarily as a result of our childhood exposure.

For example, if you see fewer faces from particular ethnicities in your childhood, your adult brain struggles to distinguish between them so they all “look” the same. And yet, they are as unique as the faces with which you are familiar.

Just imagine if you had been born into a different culture. What might the world look like then? What faces and objects might you “see” differently? Different cultures even break the colour spectrum into different pieces so colours often don’t truly translate easily from one language to another.

The Rules We Make

And we haven’t even discussed our psychology. It builds on our inner experience of the physical world to create rules as to how the world operates and “should” behave. We get frustrated when the world doesn’t go to plan. When people behave in ways that run contrary to our rules. Road rage is an obvious example. This is essentially another person breaking your rules.

So, start by asking yourself:

  • How do I truly see the world?
  • How might the people around me see it differently?
  • How might I learn to see the world like they do?

Let me illustrate with a personal example that has created much friction for me over my life. I was brought up in a very clean and tidy home. My mother had a place for everything, and her nightmare was someone calling unannounced and seeing the house dirty.

As a result, when I walk around my house decades later, I cannot prevent myself from looking at every object and assessing whether it is clean and in the “right place”. My wife and children see the world differently, so they don’t see things being out of place. They don’t feel they have to do anything with a pile of books “thrown” on the table, so they happily walk by. They don’t see a dirty kitchen.

Their experience of the world is fundamentally different and much more accepting and relaxed. They are teaching me to see the world differently. Who is your teacher?

Questions in the Image:

  • How should the world look?
  • How should people behave?
  • Why?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons (link to This book delves into the limitations of human perception and cognition, helping the reader understand how and why we see the world in the way we do. It deals with cognitive biases, illusions and how we often miss what is right in front of us due to the way our brains process information.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. Just looking out the window now I saw my daughter heading out to school. And it struck me, What am I teaching her? What have I thought her? I’m thinking specifically around how she sees the world. Have I embedded ways of thinking that will prove unhelpful? Most likely and that is humbling.

About Tom O’Leary

My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.

The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.

And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.

That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.

How Might Tom Help?

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