I recently did a training for a group of student leaders where I used the Alphabet Exercise.  I gave pairs a sheet of paper with each letter of the alphabet followed by a blank line printed on it.

Their assignment was to leave the room and find, in order, the letter “A”, then the letter “B”, and so on in any place they could.  There was a token prize for the most creative location a letter was found, but the main point of the exercise was to have them become more conscious about what was around them.  All the letters had to be visible without manipulating anything, so, in theory, they had walked by all these things but just hadn’t noticed.

The hardest part of the exercise was determining a winner.  They had letters from an artist’s signature on a painting; the letter in the middle of the football field of a competitor — and a selfie to prove they really had gone there in the allotted 20 minutes; words from serial number plaques on machinery; someone crawled under a car to see the Y in Goodyear on the backside of a tire; buttons on a washing machine; and even a garden hose laid out in the shape of a J.

We later used the exercise to make a point that things are happening all around us — including what Dan and Chip Heath call “bright spots” in their book Switch, and that it behoves us to notice more closely than we usually do.

Think about playing the “alphabet exercise” the next time you are walking about.  My experience is that first you’ll notice the obvious ones: on a street sign or license plate, but eventually you’ll see not only the make of the car, but then the dealer sticker; not just the name on the mailbox, but the brand and US Post Office notifications; flags and home decor, etc.  

Raising consciousness is as easy as A, B, C, but the lessons from the mental gymnastics can serve you well past Z.

— beth triplett

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