I am a passionated photographer. When I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review website recently about photography and leadership it got me thinking . What have photography and strategy in common? I am not taking about the snapshots everyone it taking with his/her smartphone. I am talking about serious photography (I am not saying professional as there are many amateurs which do serious photography). There is a good quote from Ansel Adams saying that you are not taking a good photo – you are making it. This is very true. And this is also where we can find the similarities with a good strategy (and good leadership for that matter).
A good photo starts with a good composition. As a photographer you have to pay attention not only to the main subject of the photo. The composition, the background, the light, any distractions – all these details are important. You can work from the back to the front. Look at the background first and find the best perspective . Make conscious decisions what to include in your photo and what not. Pay attention to details. If you have the best composition you may have to wait for the right moment to take the final picture. This could be a movement of your main Subject. Or the light beam coming through the clouds. If the moment is there you have to execute fast and flawlessly. Which also means you need to know your camera inside-out. And of course you have to understand the principals of photography really well to make sure the results will match your vision. Finally you need to develop you photo in the post processing to come up with the final picture.
What does this have to do with strategy you might ask.
A good strategy has to be well prepared. Understanding the environment, the main drivers of the market, the competition and potential risks is critical. Similar to the composition of a good photo you need to see the bigger picture and pay attention to details. Speed and execution are important but without a good composition the results will be mediocre in most cases. And not the winning strategy you are looking for. Like a good composition building a good strategy will take some time. You also have to know your strength and weaknesses, and how your company operates in oder to be ready for the execution of the strategy. Very similar to the equipment you need for photography . Timing is also critical. It is not always the first or fastetest to win. Understanding when the time is right – just like with the photo when all things come together – is a key success factor for a good strategy. And of course you have to adapt to changes over time and your strategy. Strategy is never done – just like the photo is not done by pushing the release button. You need to work on it to make it the photo you have envisioned.
Look at the photo I have selected for this post – the dunes of Maspalomas, Gran Ganaria. I had to go there 2 time as the light was not “good” in the morning. Late afternoon was a much better time. When taking this photo I was looking for a composition with the sand structure in the foreground and the dunes more in the back. If you look very carefully you can also see a person standing on the right dune – and someone sitting on the left dunes. Might be hard to see on screen but clearly visible in a print. I was waiting for that person on the right to reach to top of the dunes as this males the picture more interesting (and give you a sense of the size as well). The rest was execution in the darkroom to make this the black and white photo I had envisioned.