Sapere Vedere is the central theme of my digital garden. I first discovered this term from the book, Aspire by Kevin Hall. My digital garden is a public repository of knowledge that I accumulated through my experience. The topics may seem random at first, but it reflects the knowledge or understanding that I require at the current phase in life to make more informed decisions in the future. It is also about knowing how to see the connections among this information to maximise the synergy of ideas.
Sapere Vedere is about knowing how to see
It is Leonardo da Vinci's life motto, and he attributed it as the secret of his genius behind his works across multiple disciplines. Hall further explains Sapere Vedere in his book, "Sapere Vedere is three dimensional, a combination of hindsight, foresight, and insight."
People across different eras also mention this concept of knowing how to see. It is being described in various ways, but I believe the essence is the same. John Ruskin, a Victorian polymath, called it, "Genius is only a superior power of seeing."
Sapere Vedere is also about knowing what we know and what we don't know, as described by Julie Zhuo, author of "The Making of A Manager". Zhuo calls the unknowns, "unk-unks". Sapere Vedere, in my opinion, is the ability to see through the mist. It is the self-awareness to see things objectively and differentiate what we know and our "unk-unks".
The case of the unk-unks, a thread.— Julie Zhuo (@joulee) August 27, 2021
In product development, we often focus on what we know and what we don't know.
How to design software
How to articulate my point of view in writing
How to run a recruiting process
In system thinking, knowing how to see is about zooming out to see the big picture and appreciate the interactions and relationships between complex systems. It is about being wary of potential system traps like seeking the wrong goal and finding possible leverage points to improve an existing system.
I found the story in "This is Water" by David Foster Wallace very apt in describing Sapere Vedere.
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, How's the water?"
And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
The exact same experience can mean two completely different things to two different people. They can construct two different meanings from the same experience. In this commencing speech, Wallace advocated the importance of "learning how to think". There are different kinds of freedom and options if we learn how to think (see).
At this moment, I believe knowing how to see is about understanding how to see things positively in the face of adversity, staying curious about new possibilities and knowledge and approaching things in a compassionate light. Did I understand the wisdom of da Vinci fully? Probably not. I am, after all, a young fish that is still finding what the hell is water.
P.S. I found a similar quote to Julie Zhuo's tweet.
As we know, There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
- Donald Rumsfeld