Business Innovation Lessons from One of World's Leading Ensembles and the Father of Photojournalism.

futurelab default header

by: Idris Mootee

Business lessons do not just come from business, they come from art, biology, physics and music. There are tremendous analogies from these fields to teach corporate innovation. And I have two to share with you here.

I was first exposed to Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) at the age of 16 when I began admiring the work of the French master (and father) of photojournalism. By 1932, at age 24, Cartier-Bresson had begun to devise a whole new manner of shooting pictures that display an intuitive knack for choosing "the decisive moment," as it came to be called, that instant when a shutter click can suspend an event within the eye and heart of the beholder, an exhilarating confluence of observer and observed. His lyrical, loose, ingeniously composed images were a revelation. He used a Leica like a violinist uses his violin. I was using a Contarex, which my father gave to me since he was not on the Leica camp. I switched to Leica at the age of 20.

Here are two quotes from Cartier-Bresson:

“For a subject to be strong enough to be worth photographing, the relationship of its forms must be rigorously established. Composition starts when you situate your camera in space in relation to the object. For me, photography is the exploration in reality of the rhythm of surfaces, lines, or values; the eye carves out its subject, and the camera has only to do its work. That work is simply to print the eye’s decision on film."

The analogy here is business in today’s hyper competitive world requires agility that goes again the traditional notion of strategic planning. An agile business responds rapidly to changes in its business environment. These changes can be regulatory, competitive, market or disruptive innovation. The trick is to explore in reality of the rhythm of technology, customer behavior and customer unmet needs, much like a photojournalist waiting for its subject and other elements (lights/shadow/lines etc) to fall into place. An agile enterprise must re-examine / re-architect their strategic, structural, human characteristics and technology infrastructures.

“I’m not responsible for my photographs. Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience. It’s drowning yourself, dissolving yourself, and then sniff, sniff, sniff – being sensitive to coincidence. You can’t go looking for it; you can’t want it, or you want get it. First you must lose your self. Then it happens.”

The lesson here is when the very nature of strategic innovation cannot happen when we are carrying too much industry legacy thinking and orthodoxies. In order for any organizations to become the innovators in their industries, they must fist lose themselves and dissolve themselves to play the innovation game, immerse themselves in new ways to redefine competition and product performance. Imagine new product performance curve that is entirely different today or service innovation that transformative.

The other analogy is about the business of creative collaboration. HBS Prof Robert Austin talked about what innovative businesses can learn about managing creative people in an interview with HBR Working Knowledge’s senior editor Martha Lagace.

Here’s the story. He first met violinist Paul Robertson (ensemble Medici String Quartet) in Copenhagen and came to mind with the idea to explore the process of creative collaboration, a central theme not just in music but also in knowledge-intensive businesses. According to Prof. Austin, businesses emphasize technical mastery and the creation of predictable patterns. The Medici String Quartet aimed for more. The goal of each performance was never to render a piece exactly as the composer intended, but to interpret it in fresh and new ways.

In business, preparation means thinking something through and establishing a plan. The execution phase is then managing to the plan. That’s not remotely how the quartet prepared. Early in their career together they, especially Paul, had learned something of great value from Sir Clifford Curzon, a legendary classical pianist. From Curzon they learned to destroy a piece by making a metronome play the wrong tempo; then they tried to play against it. They would come up with ways to make a piece harder to play and would keep adding constraints until they basically couldn’t play it anymore. The idea was to rebuild it after they had destroyed it.

“In a way it’s the opposite of planning that happens in business sometimes, which is all about creating patterns we expect. There are certain situations that require that we innovate because we’re in the world of the unexpected. Think of crisis management. It’s very important in crisis management not to fall into a comfortable pattern because you may be misperceiving the data. Psychologists talk about the initial hypothesis problem: In a crisis, in your eagerness to get control of the situation, you often grasp at an explanation that is incorrect. Afterward, though, you see only confirming data, not disconfirming data.”

Original Post: