What can we learn about visual intelligence from Amy Herman?

In summer 2017, in an unplanned manner, I encountered the work entitled Visual Intelligence by Amy E. Herman. It has been an entertaining and educating read accompanying my solitary meal experience.

Everyone, from parents to physicians, needs to hone their observation skills, to be a better observer.

There seems to be a correlation for those having relatively high visual intelligence and communication skills, for example Winston Churchill, who was an avid painter (see also ref2017*/amy_herman_visual_intelligence*txt), was well-known as an excellent communicator, who embraced universal values and utilized repetition, allegory, antithesis.

As days go, we hope to increase our observation skills and visual intelligence, one of the multi facets of multiple intelligence. Visual intelligence can help to make our unknown known.

Be humble instead of over-confident.

We were warned to be humble through two major examples listed on page 220. The belief that Titanic could not sink contributed to her tragedy. The belief that Lehman Brothers was too big to fail contributed to its collapse.

The people involved saw the warning signs, but chose to ignore them because they were uncomfortable to think the unthinkable and say the unspeakable.

Avoid using the words obviously and clearly.

Have you noticed that people around us, perhaps including ourselves, often used these two words: obviously and clearly?

The motivation behind this piece of advice is because we live in a very complex world. Very little is obvious, and even less is clear.

To quote from page 259: “…things will go wrong for all of us. Life will present us with too many uncertainties and too few gurneys. I call this place the gray area. In the gray area, things aren’t clear-cut. Instead, they are weird, messy, noisy, and chaotic. The lines between good and bad, guilty and innocent, rational and irrational, and intentional and accidental are blurred.”

This observation made me ask: how to survive in uncertainty? [1]

Re-frame our perspectives to shed new insights.

Amy Herman argued that no two people see anything the same way. For example, the color of a dress.

In another example, the painting entitled The Vegetable Gardener by Giuseppe Arcimboldo of Milan, reminded us that if we change the ways we look at things, the things you look at change.

To quote Lori Deschene, “anyone can change their life if they change the stories they tell themselves.”

It depends on what side you are looking at it from.

On page 148, the story goes that Dr Anna Pou, a respected head-and-neck cancer surgeon at the Memorial Medical Center in Uptown New Orleans, had to prioritize which patients needed to be moved (and the order), and who could be left behind based on the medical conditions she observed, when Hurricane Katrina hit on 20050829 and resources ran short.

Together with fellow doctors, Pou agreed that babies in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive-Care Unit), pregnant mothers, and critically ill adult I.C.U. patients should get first priority. They also decided that patients with A D.N.R (Do Not Resuscitate) order should go last.

The more disturbing finding was a lab report indicating that the deceased, after the helicopters and boats arrived that Thursday morning, were administered lethal doses of morphine or midazolam, or both. While morphine is frequently used to control severe pain or discomfort, it can also slow breathing and result in death.

Following her actions, she was labeled a hero and a murderer.

The survived and their family members thanked her, the family members of those who did not make it were in grief and anger.

She was investigated a year later for homicide; the grand jury refused to indict Pou.

Prioritizing is ruthless, yet while considering alternatives, many times we are left with no choice but to prioritize, hopefully based on our adhered values.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

On page 212 and 213, we were presented with two paintings entitled The Naked Maja and Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (also known as Big Sue) by Goya and Lucian Freud, respectively.

While I prefer the former painting in terms of aesthetic comparisons, the later was sold at Christie’s auction at a record breaking price of GBP 17.2 million in 2008.

Marry a concept with a medium

Plan and habitually practice marrying concepts/ideas with a medium.

To make masterpieces in our communication, we can gain inspirations from artists. A sculptor wield a hammer; a photographer arrange a camera, flash tripod, etc.

In my view, Amy Herman is a good example too as she created her own niche by marrying her formal education in law and art history, to create courses on visual intelligence and the art of perception, that she have taught to medical doctors, law enforcement officers (polices, detectives), etc.

We must edit.

Even though we are not an editor, we must edit daily.

On page 193, we were reminded that saying too much can be as bad as not saying anything at all.

Purge regularly because destroying is intimately connected to creating.

To quote Antoine de Saint Exupéry, the author of Little Prince, from Wind, Sand and Stars (French title: Terre des hommes), “…perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away…

The advice to not only add, but also substract also reminded me on my preference for a minimalist lifestyle.

On 20170710, Honey Panda learned a hard lesson. He did not edit while answering a question from his boss’ boss’ boss and received a stupid remark. Perhaps, the act of writing down can allow him visually edit what he is going to say. I learned this strategy from my father, who had never completed his high school education.

On page 194, Jess McCann suggested that people tend to say too much or vomit verbally possibly because

  • the act of speaking makes us uncomfortable
  • our personality
  • we face high pressure
  • we are uncomfortable with the information we intend to convey


[1] On 20170711, I was upset by the spike of air tickets and regretted that I did not buy them earlier when I saw a price dip two weeks ago. Thanks  to Honey Panda for reminding me that it’s no use crying over spilled milk.

To deal with uncertainty, we can:

  • substitute expectations with plans.
  • be mindful and observant e.g. by increasing our visual intelligence.


One comment

  1. […] Draw to increase our visual intelligence. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: