Why I Love Insignificant Things (And You Should Too)

Why I Love Insignificant Things (And You Should Too)

I spend a lot of time observing insignificant things.

The only reason I first realized this was because of an annual ritual I started more than five years ago where I would collect these bits of insignificance and arrange them into curated ideas that I felt described a shift in how consumers were being influenced and how businesses were marketing.

That collection of ideas turned into a document I called my “Non-Obvious Trend Report” and for the past five years, more than half a million people have downloaded or shared that report online. This year was my fifth for producing the report and so I decided to do something I never had before – share the methods I use for gathering these trends with the world.

As I started to think about how I taught myself to embrace insignificance, I recalled one night several years ago when I was invited to a formal dinner at an event in New York.

The venue was a beautiful restaurant and after our meal the waiter came around to take our dessert orders from one of two set menu options. Less than 10 minutes later, a team of six people not including our waiter came and delivered all the desserts to our large table of 30 people, getting each order perfectly right without saying a word to anyone.

As they delivered the desserts, I started to wonder how had that one waiter who took our orders managed to relay all those choices perfectly to a team of six within 10 minutes?

"By simply choosing to observe, what can you see about a situation that no one else notices? What can that teach you about people, processes and companies that you didn’t know before?"
I quickly realized that the trick our head waiter used was simple. If you had picked dessert option one, he placed a dessert spoon above your plate. And if you picked option two, he placed the spoon to the right of your plate.

So when that team of food runners came to the table, all they needed was the “code” to decipher the spoon positioning and they would be able to deliver the desserts perfectly. That little story of food delivery is a perfect example of the first habit I talk about learning in the book: observation.

Being more observant means training yourself to see the details that most others often miss.

Perhaps you already knew that little spoon trick, but imagine you didn’t. Simply observing it could teach you something fascinating about the little processes that we rarely pay attention to that keep the world (and fancy dinners!) moving along. Now imagine that little moment multiplied by a hundred or a thousand.

Learning to be more observant isn’t about seeing the big things. Instead, it is about training yourself to pay more attention to the little things.

By simply choosing to observe, what can you see about a situation that no one else notices? What can that teach you about people, processes and companies that you didn’t know before?

This is the power of making observation a habit, and I would like to share three practical tips to help you do it.


  • Explain the World to Children – If you are lucky enough to have children in your life, one of the best ways to train yourself to use observation more frequently is to get better about explaining the world around you to children. When my kids asked me recently why construction vehicles and traffic signs are orange but cars aren’t, it forced me to think about things I would otherwise have easily ignored, even if I didn’t have the perfect answer to the question.
  •  Watch Processes in Action – Every situation is filled with processes, from how school buses drop off children at their stops to how coffee shops take and make orders every morning. When you look at these interactions, you’ll notice that nothing is by accident. Pay attention and ask yourself what does a typical interaction look like? How does it differ when it involves a “regular” versus a “newbie”? Seeing these patterns in regular everyday life can help you train yourself to use this observational skill in other situations as well.
  • Dont Be Observationally Lazy – It is easy to go through the mundane moments of life glued to your smartphone. Aside from being really good at capturing our attention, they also keep us from seeing the world around us. Rather than switching to auto-pilot to navigate daily tasks like commuting or buying groceries, train yourself to put your phone down and choose to be observant instead.
Rohit Bhargava is a trend curator, marketing expert and the author of five business books – including the new Wall Street Journal best seller Non-Obvious which was released in February 2015. He is the Founder of the Influential Marketing Group and a frequent keynote speaker on marketing, leadership and why brands with personality always win.

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