01/30/2014 10:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Get a Perspective

"Step into my shoes, and you will have a perspective on how big a deal it is for me if I can cross a road without being honked upon," says a blind man to me when I asked him about the road discipline in the crowded streets of Mumbai. It is interesting to understand that perspective, in this case, is not a visual sense (as it is in geometry, photography, arts), but an expressive emotion to a situation. It is very different from opinion -- which utilizes metacognition. Perspective comes out from empathy.

Everyone has an opinion (most of them), but few have perspectives. It's tough and it's the power of vulnerability of giving up your individual self to be and feel like someone else. I experienced it when I was working in a rural hospital in Mozambique, Africa. As an engineer, if I saw a machine broken like a generator or a medical device, in my opinion, the solution was simple -- FIX IT. But after understanding the core issue of why these things are broken and not fixed, is not because it cannot be, but because the problem is bureaucratic. My opinion was heavily weighed down by my perspective when I interviewed the hospital staff and realized that fixing something meant writing long applications, waiting for some American organization to donate money which was probably raised over a black tie cocktail reception party in a four-star hotel in New York City. No, I am not being overdramatic. Here is a picture proof.


Really! A party to "help" poverty in Africa, shouldn't it be to fight poverty?

I am not writing this to talk about the crippling system of smoking flavored tobacco to raise money for helping Africa. Lets get back to the business of perspective. I learned about perspective for the first time in a design class in my grad school. It was about designing machines that humans can manage and not the other way round. You can call it human interface design. I have a perfect example for a project that was completely based on getting a perspective, and the entire solution was designed with a perspective and not based on market research or surveys. A quick side note about surveys and why they should be avoided in words of Henry Ford -- "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

This is exactly what IDEO did in a recent Hospital redesign. Based on an extract from the full interview by Tim Brown.

One of IDEO's designers, Kristian Simsarian, took on the redesign of a hospital emergency room. Kristian checked in as a patient, videotaping every experience -- and one of the first things we noticed, watching the tape, was the sheer amount of time he spent lying on his back, waiting on the rolling cot, staring at the acoustic ceiling tiles. The tiles became a symbol of the overall ambiance: a mix of boredom and anxiety from feeling lost, uninformed and out of control.

We could have responded by saying, "Let's make the ceiling tiles more colorful," or -- as many hospitals do -- "Let's put televisions everywhere to distract people." Instead, we started a series of deliberate discussions about the findings, and those led us to talk about improving the overall approach to ER logistics, so patients were treated less like objects to be positioned and allocated, and more like people in stress and pain

This is powerful. Imagine an entire health care system or an education system designed using perspective and not old historical data and statistics. Because people should not be treated as mere data and statistics, they have emotions and feelings and as soon as you take that into account, you have a perspective that will help you reimagine and restructure broken things. Engineering, medicine, parliamentary bills if they start considering perspective along with BIG DATA, things will start to change. I am currently working on my startup Ycenter that is about giving IMMERSIVE learning experiences to American university students by living and working with communities in Africa and India. But if you think about it, it is really about getting perspective. Interestingly, since the time I have been working on this startup organization, people call me "social entrepreneur." What I really think they mean is an entrepreneur with perspective that drives him towards social change. Opinions can be formed based on reading and learning, but perspective comes from empathy and wisdom, so the next time someone tells you to get an opinion, tell them you would prefer getting a perspective. It's about being empathetic, more importantly; it's about being human.

Lets see if you got anything out of this article post. How was my article? You can have an opinion that this is mediocre writing and the words are too simple. I might agree with this opinion of yours about my article, but I never asked your opinion. I asked how was my article? With a perspective you could think of me as a guy who is not a writer or trying to be one. He doesn't get paid for this. He probably cared to write about this as opposed to watching his favorite TV show. Why would he really do it? See the best part of having a perspective is you can start asking the right questions which may lead to answers that might help you to do something that you really like but might not be an expert at it, just like my writing.