Article: On Observation, Interpretation, and Translation

“I thought of making something… so I did.”

Throughout my personal and professional life I’ve often heard people say that they “could never do what I do”. That my tendency to “always be doing or making things” is admirable. More loudly, I find myself listening to people express their wish to be doing something, to make something, but they don’t try because they think they won’t be good at it. Quick to dismiss their skills as non-existent. As someone who grew up with multi-talents for role models those expressions concern and puzzle me: I’m not special at all. We all get ideas sometimes, we all like things. It saddens me when people say they don’t make what they want to make because of some belief that they wouldn’t be able to. Over time I thought about why I am not bothered by this, or by the often-lamented ‘impostor syndrome’, and I trace it back to three skills that are implied, but not often spoken about:




I hope that by writing about what those skills mean to me and how I apply them that they can serve as guiderails for others (especially girls & women who want to be creative but believe they can’t). I wish for others to never be able to say that they can’t (learn how to) do something.

Observation: to see.

Observation is literally what it sounds like: to observe. To see the world. But then to really see it. It does not mean to obsess over everything but what it implies is to not trod around like a horse with blinkers on. To me it means to also be truthful about things. Opinions are subjective. But they inform a lot of what we think we see. What we like, and what we don’t like. I choose to be extremely open about things because if I wouldn’t be I know that I would dismiss a lot and I think that’s a great way this skill can be trained. Way back in college we got educated on the concept of ‘the six thinking hats‘, and encouraged to try and see things from the perspective of wearing each color. To me these are great starting points for observing things in new and different ways.

Low observation reveals itself when people are surprised that something was done or exists at all, that something was used in a certain way, or that they ‘missed’ that thing in plain sight that someone else did see. To take things at face value, and perhaps not even see something for what it is at all.

In order to raise Observation skills, try to:
– Practice Mindfulness (I do not prefer the floaty Western-world yoga teacher version but if that works for you then by all means go for it)
– Be curious and try to explore new things.
– Do not take everything at face value or be quick to dismiss or ignore it.
– Put the mobile phone down. Get off social media. Go take a walk in town or in nature. Visit new things.
– Practice recollection by picking something you observed – write it down for assistance – but try to still remember it at the end of the day. Then do two. Then three.

Interpretation: to interpret and extract.

Interpretation is the second skill and the most complex one in my opinion. It is two-fold: it both refers to considering something observed for the lessons, opportunities, and knowledge that it may present, and the ability to measure your own knowledge against the knowledge that is required to act upon an opportunity and interpreting how to align those two.

It is difficult to see something and know how it can be an opportunity or a lesson. Sometimes, it is very clear-cut. Other times, it can be a complete surprise. But in my experience, Interpretation is hindered by an absence of playful inquiry, a fear of failure or ‘not getting it right the first time’. It is not wrong to not know something: just try to learn a new thing. Anything. Know how to research independently and teach yourself new information and how to evaluate Observations for the opportunities, pitfalls, and/or knowledge that they can hold.

In order to raise Interpretation skills, try to:
– Imagine the ways something observed can be a teachable moment. Think creatively and playfully about how something can be used, or a method can be applied, or how someone did something. Beyond the intended use case.
– Treat the realization of not knowing something as a chance to find out.
– Do not take everything at face value or dismiss it quickly. Think about what you’re seeing, exactly.
– Learn from others: What did they do with something? How did they make something? Consider how you would do something differently.
– Learn how to research: There’s a wealth of information freely available nowadays. If you don’t know something, where can you learn it? Google things. Join clubs. Find out where you can get materials to try something.
– Learn how you learn best: through discussing it with people? Through getting your hands dirty in a workshop? With careful planning or through in-the-moment winging it?

Translation: to apply and refine.

The last skill should be a natural progression from Observation and Interpretation: taking what’s observed & interpreted and correctly applying it to oneself and own situations/methods. Or not, because sometimes the key is in not applying something! Sometimes you see something and you’ll think that it’s just wrong or not good enough and you learn the most from realizing that you yourself would never do something that someone else does. Sometimes the best path to improvement is by being critical of others. Evolution as a social species determined that we are skilled in learning from each other and to measure the actions of others and our own for value, effectiveness, and approval. There’s a range in that and it too is something that can be developed*.

In order to raise Translation skills, try to:
– Do. Really: Do things. Succeed in them. Fail in them. Pick yourself up if you failed, evaluate what happened and how you can do better next time, then do it again until you succeed.
– Again: Do. Sitting around talking about how you want to be able to do something is not the way you will learn how to do something.

The compound effect

There’s something funny that happens when training the skills mentioned above.
They stack.

  • If you learned how to use a tool or software program: the path of learning that tool or program can ease the path of learning other tools and programs. Especially if there is overlap between them.
  • If you can analyze what creative works inspire you and what makes them inspirational to you: you can form your own quality standard for the creative works you want to create yourself.
  • If you trained yourself in a skill: you can build the confidence to learn other skills.
  • If you research how to do things (and pay attention) you might notice that a tutorial site has other tutorials that match the topic of research. Or someone mentions another technique or resource in passing. Look it up. Learn more.

Why do I write this down? Developing skillsets is a matter of doing. Planning a path forward and following it. Evaluating progress and making adjustments. But most of all: not letting the realization that you do not know something stop you from pursuing something that you want to achieve.

* Note about ND/NT considerations

The above article does not explicitly mention it but while I am no expert on the additional challenges created by neurodiversity conditions I did not forget about their existence. It is definitely true that the above skills are affected by neurological conditions. Developing them will, undoubtedly, look different for each individual. But that does not mean it’s not worthwhile to discuss them. We all have to find our own path through our lives. I want people to be able to find their paths, and never not take a road because they think they can’t.