The art of taking a second look

NRF PROTECT: Retail security professionals refresh their visual intelligence skills
Peter Johnston
NRF Contributor
June 6, 2023

NRF PROTECT got off to an insightful start with a keynote address by attorney, internationalist, crime fighter and art historian Amy Herman, who gave her audience what might be described as a close look at the need to see clearly. 

Herman holds degrees in international affairs, law and art history, and has previously worked as director of educational development for channel 13/WNET and head of education for the Frick Collection. For the past 15-plus years, she has acted as president of The Art of Perception, headquartered in New York.

Herman makes her living by working with people whose job requires them to notice things; particularly to notice things that have changed, and things that shouldn’t be there. Among her clients are the New York Police Department, the FBI, the State Department, NATO and various branches of the U.S. armed forces, along with surgeons, private investigators, and — in this case — security professionals in the retail industry.

Organized retail crime

Learn more about ORC and loss prevention in the retail industry.

She began by telling a story that reflected her own need to notice. She was in Madrid last fall, trying to find her way around, peering into her phone and anxious that she might be on the wrong path. “I’m trying to get from my hotel to the venue where I’m speaking, and I’m looking at my Google Maps to try to figure out where I am,” she said.

“Finally, I say to myself, ‘stop looking at the Google Maps and look up.’” At this point she displayed a picture. “And I looked up at the top of the building next to me and saw these two chariots with horses and drivers charging off the roof. It was twilight in Madrid, and it was just this spectacular moment. I took a picture, and it was a reminder to me. Look at things again and again, even if you think you know.”

To further illustrate the need to notice, Herman divided the audience into groups of two, asking one member of each pair to describe a given image to their partner. The partner would listen, eyes closed, and then was tested on their ability to recognize what had been described to them.

Results weren’t successful, because, she said, people aren’t good at prioritizing what’s important in an image. Pointing out a distinctive aspect of one image — a sliver of unexposed area in the corner — she said very few describers ever mentioned it. Of those that did, the majority were members of the military’s special forces.

“I asked them why and how they got it,” she said, “and they told me they were trained specifically to make use of every bit of information they had.”

Bringing the lesson home, she pointed out that “Organized retail crime is changing all the time. You have to keep being able to recognize it.”

The world is full of potential wrongdoers busily figuring out ways of disguising themselves, she noted. “You need to change your perspective before things change.”

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