Relativity of Perspective

Lance Creativity, Ideas Leave a Comment

Once you get past the harried rush to the airport, get through the “security theater” checkpoint, navigate the inefficient seating procedure, and ignore the egg-carton arrangement of airliner seating accommodations, modern air travel can be an enjoyable and enlightening experience.

For example, once the airplane climbs to its cruising altitude and settles into its cruising speed (i.e. – a constant one), the flight experience itself becomes an illustration of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. Fly over a featureless terrain like the ocean, and it’s eery how Einstein’s theory becomes real as all sense of motion evaporates: the sky is motionless, the billowy clouds crawl past, and the monotonous droning of the engines is sleep inducing … all despite the fact the plane is moving at roughly 500 mph. In fact, the reality of motion is so suspended that stuff like this happens regularly:


From my perspective and the perspective of everyone experiencing motion in the same way on my flight, we are packed into a sardine tin suspended from a string like a mobile over a baby’s crib, as the rest of the world lazily crawls past … until one day when you happen to look out the window and see an airliner just like yours flying in the opposite direction!

In all my years of flying I had never seen this sight before until relatively recently. While reading (since I can never seem to fall asleep while flying), I happened to look out the window when all of a sudden there appeared a commercial airliner flying in the opposite direction. It was close enough to us (not dangerously so) but just a bit below our altitude that I could have identified its livery had I not been so startled at seeing it at all. The sight was simply breathtaking as the 737 flying in the opposite direction rocketed by as if it were a jet fighter. Prior to seeing this sight, my experience of flying at 500 mph felt like we were standing still. Seeing the other passenger jet fly by, it appeared to be traveling at a breakneck speed of 1,000 mph, even though it was traveling at roughly the same speed as my own flight. (There might be some more complicated math involved here.)

Perspective matters.

Take this image out of the sky and into the office or any part of your life where interacting with actual human beings is a critical component of your success. (Pro tip: that should cover just about everything.) Consider the possibilities of genuinely seeing the problems facing you from a different perspective:

  • “Working with that division is never easy.” — What do the folks in that division think about how easy it is to work with yours?
  • “Whenever he calls to discuss a problem, he only cares about protecting his people and never about what’s good for the business overall.” — What does your approach to these types of problems look like to him?

This doesn’t mean casting aside all sense of objectivity. Just as Einstein’s theories of relativity didn’t make operating in the physical world impossible (far from it!), so too understanding the role of differing perspectives in interpersonal dealings doesn’t mean everybody is always right, nobody is ever wrong, and there’s no way to ever truly identify the best course of action. It just means that sometimes you might actually be wrong … which often is an even harder thing to accept.


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