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Leadership and Viewfinders

November 19, 2014
Humpback 2014

Humpback Whale in Lahaina, Hawaii

Lately, I’ve gotten back into photography. When our children were young, we took lots of pictures. Like so many others, we cycled through prints, slides, instant photography and of course, Super 8 home movies. But as the children grew up we took fewer pictures until we eventually simply stopped all together. Then along came digital photography and smart phones. We began taking pictures again, but the quality, until lately, was not very good. The cell phone cameras are quite good now and the full digital cameras are astounding.

Then, along came a vacation to Hawaii, a grandson who moves at about .8 times the speed of light (too fast for the cell phone cameras) and a reason to consider getting a “good digital camera.” I’ve been bitten by the bug again. And there is so much to learn! Digital photography is creative fun and it is entirely amazing what one can do with the digital post processing software. We came back from our vacation with hundreds of images. I would not have taken even 1/3 of the images in film. Also, I learned many lessons along the way.

Here are some things I learned:

  • Don’t spend your vacation looking through the viewfinder
  • Take care in the beginning while composing the image, BUT
  • Not so much care that you miss other views, post processing is amazing
  • Don’t delete images from the camera. Look at them in post processing before deciding they aren’t worthy
  • Video capabilities are excellent, take a video and extract a still image if you need one

And, you say, “Nice, but what does all this have to do with leadership?” The analogy is compelling.

Don’t spend all your time looking through the viewfinder

The reason you don’t want to spend your vacation (or life in general for that matter) looking through a viewfinder is that what you see through the camera is not nearly as compelling and intriguing as what you see with your stereoscopic natural vision. I was repeatedly reminded as I put the camera down and just stopped to look at the scene in front of me of how spectacular, colorful and expansive the vistas really are in Hawaii. No image does it justice. In business, the viewfinder, or limited view, is analogous to our industry “group think,” and our culture of “not invented here” and our “we’ve always done it that way” mentality.

The modern digital camera has a small LCD screen as well as the viewfinder. So it is possible to more or less see the “real world” in your peripheral vision when you use that small screen. However, your focus is still on the camera. Using this LCD screen might be analogous to joining an industry special interest group. You will see some new things, but the focus will still be limited to the “small screen” of your industry. So put the camera down once in awhile and get outside your industry. Join a purposefully diverse group of people from different disciplines, backgrounds and industries. You will be amazed at what you can learn that applies to your leadership and your business.

Take care in the beginning

I found that it was important to spend time composing the picture I wanted to take. While the post processing software (Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop as well as other available software) is simply amazing, it can’t make up for bad composition. I can almost totally re-do the exposure, control the colors and crop out unwanted portions of the image, but I can’t go back and change the position from which I took the image or add in parts I missed from zooming in too far.

In business, we plan our shots through defining our brand, strategy, customers and products. We don’t know all the details and we can’t predict how things will turn out, but we know when and where to deploy our assets to achieve the strategic goal. And, we know that we can’t take too much time trying for perfection. At some point, our efforts of defining and producing goods or services must stop and we have to go to market prepared to make adjustments when we learn more from customers, competitors and market dynamics.

Don’t delete images from the camera

I found that the small LCD screen can fool me when I’m reviewing my shots. It may look blurry or perhaps over exposed. But once I look at it on the computer and quickly look at changing the exposure or mitigating camera shake or cropping the image, it may all of a sudden be quite good. Same with business. While we want to cut our losses (not spend too much time with a bad image), we may need to wait a bit to see if the product or service just needs a tweak here or there to make it a winner in the marketplace.

Use video

As I mentioned, the new digital cameras almost all take high definition video as well as still images. While we were in Lahaina, Hawaii, I was surprised by a mother whale and her calf swimming in the ocean right off our cabin balcony. I was downloading pictures from our morning excursion at the time and it was really lucky that I just happened to see them when I looked up from the computer. I quickly loaded another memory card into the camera and ran out to take some pictures. It was difficult to say the least — predicting when a whale will breach is very hard (at least for a novice). It dawned on me that taking stills was too challenging and that if I took movies I could follow the whales and perhaps get a decent shot of them swimming and breaching. The result is the shot you see above. It is a frame of the movie extracted and processed in Photoshop to crop and correct for lens aberrations.

In business, social media has become the equivalent of taking video. Customer interaction with social media is non-stop and we can take advantage of that. Taking a “snapshot” from the constantly moving target that social media presents us with a means of listening to the customer’s complaints and accolades, adjusting our products or services as needed and keeping track of the changing trends of customer needs/wants so that we can meet them with new products and services.

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