Sunday, April 12, 2015

Strategy game play - Using cheng/chi business strategy to create great photos

Can you apply business strategy principles to any strategic game? Yes, you can!

Is it useful to do so? Yes, it is! It teaches you a deep understanding of the principles involved. That understanding will help you apply the principles better in business, in your personal life, and in any other strategic game of your choosing.

The photo above just got selected for the 1x gallery. is the world's largest curated gallery. It has attracted some of the best photographers in the world, and it is only the top 3% of the photos submitted that makes it into the gallery.

I took that shot, using strategic principles derived from Strategic Navigation, the business strategy framework originally created by Bill Dettmer. Dettmer based his business strategy framework partly on Maneuver Conflict, a military framework great for dealing with high degrees of uncertainty and complexity, and the Theory Of Constraints, which kicks ass in the domain of complicated cause and effect.

I started using Strategic Navigation, wrote a book about it, and, as consultants are wont to do, tried to make a living by teaching others how to use it.

I found, as many have done before me, that just because you know something really, really valuable and useful, and is willing to share it, other people will want to learn for themselves.

As you may know, I decided to rethink my entire strategy a couple of years ago. I learned photography, because I wanted to build skill using the methods I advocate, while at the same time getting a visible, unambiguous track record. I did of course use the feedback to improve my skills further, using the OODA loop as a guiding framework.

I employed a range of strategic principles, and tactical techniques, to learn to take photos good enough for 1x. Actually, I use as a source of feedback, which I feed into the OODA loop.

I'll write only of one of them, because it is a strategic idea that is very visible in the photo: Cheng/chi.

Cheng/chi is an idea from Sun Tzu's Art of War. Cheng means orthodox, and chi means unorthodox. Cheng/chi means that to win in battle, or any strategic game, you need to employ a combination of the orthodox and the unorthodox.

Let's have a look at the cheng, the orthodox, parts of the picture. There are rules for what makes a good photo, and the picture follows them:

  • The rule of thirds: The legs, or rather the knee, where it intersects the shadow, is located one third from the left edge, and one third from the bottom edge.
  • The rule of odds: There are three, evenly distributed, vertical shadows in the photo.
  • The rule of complimentary colors: The bricks in the background are orange, the trouser legs are blue. Orange and blue are complimentary colors, that go well together in a picture. (There is also orange and blue on my business card, and my usual business attire includes a blue shirt and an orange tie. This is not by coincidence...)
That is the meat and potato part of the photo, the bits that correspond to day-to-day business-as-usual in a company.

What is the chi? Better yet, why the chi? The chi part is the surprise, the part that draws attention, the edge over the competition. Everyone knows the cheng, so it is the chi that becomes the decisive advantage over the competition.

The chi in the photo is the visual illusion: The legs seem to be disembodied, living their own life, independent of a torso, and other body parts. There is no image manipulation involved. The illusion worked in real life, as I captured it. (I do a lot of trick photography, but I abide by the rules of the photographic genre I am working in, and cloning out body parts is a no-no in Street Photography.)

I am sure you can figure the illusion out. If you do, why not comment on this blog post?

So, cheng and chi, working together, convinced the curators at 1x that my photo was in the top 3% category.

 This is just the top of the iceberg, of course. For example, humans learn best when learning with other human beings, and when certain conditions are right. I, with several close friends and colleagues, have spent a year and a half building an organization for learning photography and other media skills, and executing advanced media projects.

Without the mentoring I have got from great photographers, like Petri Olderhvit, and Julia Reinhart, in that organisation, I would not have had the technical skill to capture this photo.

Without the skills I have learned from my business strategy mentors, I would not know enough about serendipidity to be able to stack the odds in my favor, so that I can take interesting street photos, not only once, or twice, in a good while, but repeatedly.

Working with photography has also allowed me to build contacts of a kind different from those I make as a business consultant, but at least as useful, and fun.

I will write more about that, but not now. I have got tons of work to do.