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Tuesday, February 12, 2013


What do good photos have in common with good organizations?

Feeling overwhelmed? Does your life have too many “dimensions” to it? Stop. Pick up your camera and go take a photo. Or, at least look at some great ones. The principles of “great photos” might also just help you in your organization or even your life!

I always look for lessons beyond the borders of one discipline, whether art or science or business, for how they may be useful in another one. And I’ve always loved photographs – the homemade ones and the professional ones. But I’d never really thought about the principles of good photography could help organizational leaders. After spending a week at Santa Fe Photography Workshops, my thoughts on how to view organizations has changed, a lot.

We’ll get there, but first, let’s talk photography.

If you’ve ever looked at good photos (or a piece of art or dance, or heard a good piece of music), you might react by saying, “I like it.” But why do you like it?

At least three key components come into play. First, a good photo has an intent or a reason for being, beyond the “I was there” aspect. It moves us, tells a story, helps us see something in a new way, or raises questions.

Eddi Soloway
The one by Eddie Soloway, shows a mushroom from a very different perspective and causes us to think about what things might look like from the viewpoint of an ant.

Next, the David DuChemin photo raises questions: who is the man, what is he looking at, and what’s behind the doors?

They also force us to focus — on the woman’s face, on the mushroom, on the man sitting in front of the blue wall.

Finally, good photographs often have patterns that subconsciously draw our eyes and our mind.  In  the Solloway photo, it’s the trees in the background; in the last, it’s the rectangles — on the door, the wall, and the bricks on the ground. They give a sense of balance and repetition, which can also help us with the intent and focus. When all of the elements work together, the result is a successful, good photo.

David DuChemin
Now, think about an organization. Intent or mission helps define the reason for an organization's existence. That intent, then, also helps determine focus — where to put attention, resources, and efforts. Finally, an organization has patterns — of practices, methods, or approaches — that also help to focus and carry out intent. And the integration of all of those elements can make for a better organization.

Intent, focus and patterns. Not a bad set of principles for a good photo. Not a bad set of principles for an organization.  Maybe even not a bad set for a human life!

Nancy K. Napier, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Centre for Creativity and Innovation and Professor of Strategy and International Business at Boise State University.

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