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Kong Deok-Jin

Picturing Creative Success

Kong Deok-Jin

Oct. 5, 2012

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Creativity is an invaluable asset in fiercely competitive red ocean markets, where all the industries and competitive parameters are known. Companies constantly need to roll out new and innovative products and services that exceed customer expectations. However, many companies fall short of effectively fostering and unfettering creativity.

There is no universal formula to unlocking creativity. The approach must align with a company's structure and culture. But as a starting point, it would be instructive to consider essential elements to nurturing creativity and activities that employ them. This leads to art forms, specifically an endeavor attuned to the fast-changing business environment: photography.
What is the appeal of photography that makes it so popular and incites sales of millions of cameras? For those who reach beyond the simplicity of point-and-shoot snapshots, the joy of creativity lies in their effort to transform everyday occurrences into emotional images or to capture the shape and texture of scenery at its optimum time of the day. There are four elements of photography that go into these moments, which can help businesses unlock their own creativity.

The first is observation. Through close observation, photography catches both what is visible to the eye and what lies underneath. For his masterpieces, Yousuf Karsh, one of the most famous portrait photographers of our time, closely observed his subjects at work and in their daily lives to capture both their humane side as well as their social personas. Similarly, in order to realize their creativity, businesses must closely observe to discover the core of a problem. Traditional surveys and interviews are no longer sufficient in understanding customer needs. Case in point is Proctor & Gamble in Japan. To resolve its sluggish sales, P&G personnel visited homes and observed how household chores were done. Concluding that its marketing strategy did not reflect consumer preference and the culture, P&G created new products and revamped its distribution system and became a success in Japan.

The second tool is integration. A photographer excludes the unnecessary elements and centers on the essentials. This process is similar to distilling a trove of ideas into a single focal point. Numerous opinions are examined, pedestrian ideas are tossed and thoughts are simplified. Animation studio, Pixar, holds regular meetings called "dailies" at the initial stages of new projects to gather opinions to maximize the quality of the outcome.

The third is convergence. Photography is the convergence of understanding a subject, the ability to express it and ability to operate a camera effectively. If the photographer lacks these three elements, it is impossible to get a good photograph. Ansel Adams, perhaps the most famous landscape photographer in the US, divided the light and shapes of his black and white landscape pictures into 10 zones to get the richest exposure. Cirque du Soleil, who with only 12 members, was able to expand into a 1 billion dollar international business due to its ability to combine dance, theater and acrobatics. Likewise, new values can be developed by securing expertise from different areas and melding them into one form.

The final element is timing. The difference between an average picture and an iconic photograph can be less than a second.

Celebrated French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, a leading figure of modern photojournalism and co-founder of Magnum Photos, proved that over and over. "There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera," he said. In his representative photograph, "Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare," Cartier-Bresson captured a man jumping over a puddle just before landing.

In a market with fierce competition, businesses lose their competitiveness due to bad timing. For example Nokia, which reigned supreme in mobile phones in the 1990s, fell behind when it failed to fully embrace smartphones and tablet PCs that it had created several years before Apple's iPhone and iPad reshaped mobile communications.

In order to gain the ability to swiftly execute a plan, businesses must first create an organizational culture that does not fear failure. This will be made possible by teaching employees to face failure quickly, learn from it and keep moving forward. Creativity does not emerge from a single moment. Rather, it is effectively realized through a careful thought process and natural harmony of the elements that produce great photographs. Marc Riboud, who worked with Cartier-Bresson at Magnum Photos, described photography as "intensely appreciating every minute of life." It is wise to remember that creativity starts from such passion.

This column originally appeared in Korea JoongAng Daily.
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