Ben linked to a great post on how trained artists vs. trained psychologists look at the same picture. The lines on the pictures below denote eye movements of the study participants as they viewed each picture.
Artists are specifically trained to discern perspective in composition. They do this by looking not only at the focal point, but also more broadly at the context around that focal point. In the study this came out clearly in the differences between the focus behavior of the psychologists (who tended to focus on the primary subject of the picture – represented in the left set of eye movements in the pictures above) vs. artists (whose concentration was across the picture – the right set of eye movements).
It reminded me of another study that compared spatial recognition of chess players vs. non-chess players. Each group was asked to memorize the positions of pieces on a chess board. They did about the same when the players were positioned randomly, but when the pieces were positioned in a way that could have been derived by actually playing a game, the chess group scored off the charts (and the control group did about the same as when the pieces were random).
The point? Our background, training and experience significantly affect the perspective we bring to a situation – even in ways that we don’t consciously recognize. Part of being a good venture capitalist/entrepreneur/board member/lawyer/angle investor/etc is not only recognizing patterns across companies but also understanding what shapes our views and ability to recognize these patters so we balance our ability to share experiences across situations while making sure we don’t leap to conclusions because we’ve been trained to look at the world in a specific way.