Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stone Fish - About the Importance of Storytelling

My son, Tim, is four years old. The daycare center where he spends his days are only a couple of minutes walk from where we live. (Tim, he wrote his own name here, says Hello! He is sitting beside me as I write this.)

Walking home is different, it often takes more than an hour. We go for walks, stop to play, investigate things... One day a couple of weeks ago we went past the sculptures you can see here, and Tim wanted to take a closer look:

As we got closer, I began asking Tim questions about the sculptures: "What does this one look like?"
"It's a bear holding a fish," Tim said. We often play little games together, rhyming games, we weave stories, play scenes from favorite movies, sing songs. Since Tim was interested in the sculptures I decided to take the opportunity:

"OK, what is this then?"
"And where are they?"
"The sea."
"OK, the sea, or maybe a river." I think I made a misstep there. Shouldn't have corrected him.

I then asked him about the other bears that you can see in the first picture. Tim said they were a mummy bear and two baby bears. I asked him what they were doing. Waiting for Daddy bear to catch fish for them, he said.

I then asked him what the bears had been doing before they came to the river to catch fish. Together we wove a story about a bear family that woke up from their long winter sleep. They were hungry and went to catch some fish.

We continued on our way, still talking about the bears. Right outside our home there is a small rocky hill with some trees. We went up to see if we could find anything interesting. If nothing else, we can get a good view of where we live from up there.

It didn't take Tim long to find something interesting. "Look, a fish," he said and pointed to this:

Yep, unmistakably fish shaped.

The point of the story is that the story Tim and I created together had primed us both to think about bears and fish. When Tim saw something even vaguely fish shaped, he recognized it.

Stories do the same thing for us in all walks of life: when we work, when we are with our families and friends, when we pursue our interests.

Stories create patterns in our minds. We then use pattern recognition to identify other things that fit the same pattern. We can use this to identify problems, and to figure out solutions. Patterns are also an excellent way of communicating with other people. If we can recognize and use the same patterns, we have a basis for understanding each other.

As a management consultant I am obviously interested in the power of patterns, for example: Systems Archetypes from Systems Thinking, or strategy patterns like the Chinese 36 Stratagems. Lean and TOC do of course also have patterns for identifying and solving problems.

One of the book ideas I have is a pattern book. It might not be the next one I write, but I will write it. Until then, I'll write about some useful patterns in this blog, and maybe in the Tempo! newsletter.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Videocast - Primus Vicus Part 4: The Project Plan

Here it is, the fourth and (probably) final episode of the Primus Vicus videocast series. The Primus Vicus videocasts show a brainstorming and planning session I led at a medieval society a couple of years ago.

This is the first videocast I have made in a year. However, I plan to do several more this year. If you look at the end of the Primus Vicus videocast, I am sure you can see why.

I hope you enjoy the videocast. If you haven't seen any of my management videocasts, you might want to check out the Kallokain channel at YouTube.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Grabbed by Grob - Great photographers think strategically

Yesterday I heard Marco Grob talk about photography at a photography trade show. Marco is a great photographer. He works for fashion magazines and photographs film stars and other celebrities. Some of his photographs were exhibited at the show. Among them were photos of Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and Jeff Bridges.

I saw the photos he exhibited before I heard his talk. The photographic style reminded me of Garr Reynold's (the Presentation Zen author) presentation style.

Marco's talk reinforced the impression: He goes for simplicity. In his photography he uses few light sources, often a single reflector. Marco's preference is for silver reflectors over white. His presentation style was similar: Simple, clean, focus on what is important.

I found it very interesting that he goes for simple tools where he can, and holds nothing back where a tool can make a real difference. For example, lights and reflectors are usually hand held by assistants, because fancy equipment gets in the way and would slow his work down. On the other hand, he talked about his Hasselblad camera the way I talk about my MacBook and OmniGraffle.

I like that he uses his hands a lot when he talks. Makes him easy to photograph. Even a clod like me can take a passably interesting photograph of him.

His attention to detail stands out. It is more than paying attention to what is in the camera viewfinder. For example, photography at this level is a team effort. Marco has assistants. The color of an assistant's clothes affects the pictures. Marco mentioned white T-shirts being a bother, because they show up as reflections in the eyes of the person being photographed.

I'd wager that Marco's own preference for snappy, black clothes isn't just because he moves in high society, it is a way of reducing his own impact on the photographs he takes.

Some people equate attention to detail with micro-management. Marco does not! He and his assistants do not talk much while they work. Instead, the assistants take queues from Marco's actions. When Marco moves in closer, the assistants know what to do with lights and reflectors. They know exactly when he will take the picture from reading his body language. This does require training, and not just knowledge, but understanding. Impressive. It reminds me of the best managers and the best agile software development teams I have worked with.

Thinking photo shoots through, careful preparation, and attention to detail are what you would expect from any good photographer. (And from anyone who is good at anything.) Great photographers go further: They think strategically.

Marco talked about how he thinks through where he wants to be a couple of years into the future, and consistently works to get there.

One of his strategic goals was to break into Hollywood movie making, so he began looking for ways to do that. The opportunity came when he did a shoot for GQ Magazine. He did a photo series called Rain Over Naked City that told a very dramatic, action oriented story. The style was film noir inspired: urban setting, darkness, few lights, rain, black and white photographs. And yes, the rain was real water, not added during post production.

The pictures didn't just make GQ Magazine happy, they were also, by deliberate design, irresistible to Hollywood movie makers.

The pictures became a Noble Vision that attracted allies and customers. When Marco went to Hollywood, he got his first job on his first day there. (I am sure he did a few preparations he didn't mention in his talk.)

Of course, his strategy had to be matched by brilliant tactical execution, and it was. He showed several pictures from Hollywood during his talk. All great, but the one that impressed me most was a portrait of Jeff Bridges. It showed those all important twin traits very clearly: simplicity and attention to detail.

Marco did a lot of automotive and still life photography in his early career. Now he mostly does very high end portrait photography. No matter how good you are, deliberately shifting to a different field like this is an impressive feat: It requires changing other people's perception of one's talent.

Great inspiration for me. I am translating Tempo! my business strategy book to English right now. After seeing Marco's pictures I will pay extra attention to keeping it simple and be very, very, careful with the details. Next week, if all goes according to plan, I will make a new videocast. It has been a long while, but I know I am going to be extra careful with details there too. (Alas, I have no talent for photography and movie making, so I will have to substitute for talent with interesting content. I am seriously envious of people who can bring both to bear.)

For that little extra bit of inspiration, I owe both Marco Grob and Anna-Carin Mårtensson, whom I wrote about recently. Thanks!

No matter what you do, studying high quality work is a great way of finding the right mindset for achieving excellence. It does not have to be high quality work in your area of expertise, it just has to be recognizable as high quality work by you.

If you check out the photographs on Marco's web site, be sure to look closely at the least fashion magazine oriented stuff. I compared pictures from the exhibition and talk with pictures from his own and Hasselblad's web sites. I got the feeling that he showed and talked about the pictures he really likes, while the stuff on the web sites is more oriented to what sells in particular markets.

Next time I will write about stone fish. Be seeing you!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Time for Art

My family and I took some time off to visit relatives during Easter. This included visiting my sister, Anna-Carin Mårtensson. Anna-Carin is a painter. She is about as obsessed with painting as I am with business strategy and organization. It is always fun to visit her and her family, but this time there was an extra treat:

During ten days, 2-11 April, 156 artists in southern Sweden exhibit their work. (Here is a map showing where all 156 artists are. Anna-Carin's exhibit is number 97 on the map.)

Anna-Carin had set up a large tent on the lawn of her house where she exhibited her paintings. She had also converted the living room in her house to an art gallery.

The exhibition has gone well so far. Anna-Carin's exhibition has had plenty of visitors.

Free is one of my favorites. I like the color composition. (Click the picture to see a larger version. Anna-Carin sometimes gets inspiration from her dreams. I haven't asked her if that is the case here.

This one makes me think of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama. If you have read the book, I am sure you understand why.

Anna-Carin's taste runs to abstract painting. She is a bit of a "painter's painter". I have seen other painters jump up and down with excitement when they have studied her work. Sometimes though, she does something else entirely. This is a painting that I find very funny.

At the Foot of the Mountain is another favorite of mine. I like it as much as I like Free.

The visit was too short, but I'll go back soon. I can't draw at all, and I mostly write about business strategy and organization. And yet, when Anna-Carin paints, and I write, at some level we do it out of a similar need to explore possibilities and to express ourselves.

The exhibition lasts until the 11th of april, so there is still time to visit.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The First Tempo! Reader Comment

I have been anxiously waiting for comments from Tempo! readers. A book is like a baby: A great investment of time, effort and emotion.

Torbjörn Gyllebring bought one of the first copies. He posted the following on Twitter:
@Kallokain I'm quite inclined to call Tempo! the "Slack" of Business Management that's a good thing :)
Joy!!! In case you haven't read it, Slack by Tom DeMarco is one of the best management books ever written. It is so good that it is actually useful. Slack was the book that got me interested in management.

Once I publish something I just want people to like it and find it useful.

I do not care greatly if Tempo! becomes a great seller. (Though it would be nice, of course.) I do care a great deal about whether readers enjoy the book and find it useful.

I care a great deal about who reads Tempo!. There are ideas in the book that I believe are very important, and worth spreading. If the ideas take root in the right minds, well, who knows what might happen...

It is not my intention to turn my blog into an advertising forum for a book. That would be boring for both you and me. However, I do hope you forgive me if I do go on a bit about Tempo! for the next month or so. Finally seeing the book in print gave me feelings I cannot describe. If I could describe them, I'd probably be a very successful fiction writer right now :-)

As always, my blog posts are few and far between when I am working long hours. I am heavily backlogged at the moment. I have promised to finish the Primus Vicus series of videocasts. I am working on an English translation of Tempo!. I am falling behind on blogging, tweeting, and participating in various forums. I have cut down on reading email, just skimming anything that does not require an answer. Of course, I want to write more books, and make more (and better) videocasts. I need to write one more issue of the Tempo! support newsletter soon. And, oh yes, I recently joined Business Network International (BNI).

Lot's of things to do. Lot's of things to write about. Right now though, I'll go to bed.