Learning to See What Others Miss – Insight from Michael Lewis and Christian Bale

Michael Lewis at the premiere of The Big Short
Michael Lewis at the premiere of The Big Short

He’s shy. With his talent, he’s like a squirrel with a nut. He keeps his talent hidden. Christian Bale doesn’t want to talk about it, but he will. Oh, this blew me away. I told him that I spent a year with Michael Burry—clearly unusual, glass eye, Asperger’s, sitting alone in an office in San Jose, hated by the people he made a fortune for—and I couldn’t have generated the impression [Bale] did. He said, “I spent a day with Burry.” I said, “OK a day, that’s not a ton.” Bale went into Burry’s office one day at 9 a.m., sat with him until 6 p.m., and didn’t get up for food or to go to the bathroom. Nine straight hours. That was it. At the end of it, he asked for Burry’s T-shirt and shorts, which he wears in the movie.

So I kept bugging him about how he did it. He was giving me these general answers, and I bothered him so much that he finally said, “It’s the way he breathes.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “He breathes during odd times when he is talking, and a lot of the mannerisms flow from the breath. I started with the breath. If I didn’t have this going, nothing else worked.” This is why he’s Christian Bale. I was thinking: I should be doing this going forward when I am writing about characters. I wish I had known this stuff when I was writing the book.

Michael Lewis, speaking of Christian Bale’s work to prepare for the movie The Big Short (from this interview: A Conversation with Michael Lewis)


fierce-leadership-susan-scottIn reading this excerpt from the interview with Michael Lewis, (this interview is really worth reading!), I thought of something I read quite a few years ago. In her book Fierce Leadership, Susan Scott talks about professional divers, people who dive for squid for a living. Some succeed, others don’t   It has nothing to do with their diving ability; it has everything to do with their observation ability. They are able to “look” and “see” better than others. From her book:

“You gotta have squid eye… It’s the ability to see the squid while he is blending into his natural environment. It’s the ability to see him just being himself. It is the ability to see him even when he doesn’t want you to see him, to see him even when he is hiding. Be advised he is very skilled. You must understand, he is there.”

Ms. Scott learned this from her friend Paul Lindbergh, who added:

“Seeing squid means you see many things that others cannot and do not see… It means you are a selective and efficient information gatherer.”

Now, I don’t know how to develop this skill. But I do think this – over the years of reading books for the purpose of presenting synopses of these books for live audiences, I have learned to ask this when I read a book: “what do I need to especially emphasize to my audience?” I think I have learned to see some things in books that I would not have seen otherwise.

So, here’s a question: what have you learned to see, that others have great difficulty seeing?

This could be one of the most valuable of skills.



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