Many of the techniques used by the best photographers are the ones we can use to become great at problem-solving.
The essence of photography
At its essence photography is driven by three variables:
a) Framing: What the photographer decides to focus on, how the camera is angled and positioned relative to the subject and what is left in and left out of the viewfinder.
b) Exposure/Lighting: This is a combination of aperture, shutter speed and how sensitive to light the film is (ISO speed)
c) Editing: Once upon a time with analog film only professionals had the tools of editing (darkrooms, chemicals, and papers) but today with digital capabilities of our phones we all can pre-edit by taking several test shots, give ourselves lots of editing options by taking a lot of pictures and then later with easy-to-use tools sculpt our pictures to our liking by cropping and filtering and more.
The essence of problem solving
The best problem solvers tend to be good at three factors:
a) Framing the problem by asking the right question: They want to know whether one is solving the right problem.
b) Getting the right input/data/facts so they can throw as much light on the problem: Can one get as much illumination as one can?
c) Interrogating and iterating the answer: The first answers tend to be somewhat right and often lead to additional questions or additional fine tuning before one reaches a more robust solution.
Leveraging the principles of photography to improve decision making.
1.Framing the problem: Three simple questions to ask before you address a problem or challenge.
a) Focus on the right problem:Often organizations and teams spin their wheels on either the wrong problem or do not frame their problem in the right context, time- horizon or challenger set.
The US Auto Industry thought their problem was to enhance quality of their hardware against the Japanese or design their exteriors and interiors to drive desire for their product against the German luxury brands when the real existential challenge was to become adept at electric and software vs Tesla and address a decline in a desire for auto ownership due to rise of Uber and Lyft.
b) Ensure differing points of view: It is critical to look at a problem from the right angle and ensure different viewpoints are included in problem definition. One reason companies miss the forest for the trees is they fail to have diverse voices and backgrounds involved in strategic problem solving. Diversity is not just critical for ideation but to understand what the issues are.
Too many traditional publications failed to adapt to digital in part due to not having technical folks and younger folks who were comfortable using digital media having a voice in the room where decisions were framed. As Boards become more diverse it is critical that they ensure that there is diversity of voices and backgrounds and not only a diversity of faces.
c) Choosing what problems to look at and what not to tackle: The best photographs often result from tight framing and often the best solutions come from the tight definition of the problem.
Many times, we might try to solve problems that are so broad that they are never solved because either it requires too many people or too many resources or too much time.
2. Ensuring the right exposure: In the world of problem solving the aperture is how much data you decide to look at, shutter speed is how much time you allocate before a decision must be made and ISO is how much leeway (graininess) is acceptable.
a) Quantity and Quality of Data: If the inputs are not correct or valid then it is unlikely the outputs will be. After framing a problem correctly, it is key to ensure that as much valid data, input, and learning is brought to the solution.
One reason the original We Work imploded was that the key data they overlooked were from the industry they really were in (real-estate leasing) and rather they focused on the ones they were not relevant (software, luxury experiences) in how they valued themselves and raised money.
b) Speed of decision making: So often problems do not get solved since there is a demand for more information, more data, and more input. Delay and dithering should be avoided by putting tight deadlines on decision making.
Too many organizations spend time ingesting lots of inputs and look at their colon in many ways but end up with no real output.
In another vernacular to solve a problem one must sooner or later emit or get off the pot.
Sometime though one rushes too fast and hurried decisions to make deadlines can also hurt an organization.
c) Sensitivity of impact of solution: If one is not going to being blowing up a photograph one really does not care about graininess and can use high ISOs to capture night views. On the other hand, if one is planning to print something on a large wall at an exhibition one must ensure much less graininess and therefore much more time and care needs to be taken.
Jeff Bezos has often noted the difference between revolving door and shut door decisions. If a decision can be revoked or changed without significant damage one needs less input and time but if a decision is difficult to undo and has long lasting or wide-ranging impact, then one must need to be more circumspect and speedier in decision making.
It is important before one begins to solve a problem one understands the sensitivity of the solution. How often have we procrastinated, and process driven a decision to death or run up huge costs in “studying a problem” when just saying yes or no quickly would have been smarter?
3.Editing the solution: The initial or first answers to a problem are not picture perfect and require three forms of editing.
a) Cropping: Sometimes the solution is correct for smaller subset of people or geography or clients and thus some honing and exceptions need to be made before announcing.
b) Filtering: This requires involving different people to look at the solution to get diversity of perspectives, interrogating the solution and particularly the inputs to ensure they were correct and interpolating with other wisdom and experience
c) Displaying and Sharing: How, when, and where one shares the solution will determine how it will be evaluated and accepted. Too often the best of solutions goes awry because the right folks were not brought into the loop before announcement, or the announcement was made without the right sensitivities or tone of voice.
Next time one solves a problem we may want to look at what makes a great photographer or a photograph and think about how we frame the problem, how we determine the process of how much data, how much time and how sensitive the impact of the solution will be and then be ready to edit and hone the solution to maximize the impact.
Photography from Sony World Photography Awards 2021 Exhibit.
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Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/